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National first for Newcastle Aboriginal Health Practitioner

Author: Rob Gill
21 August 2015
  • An Aboriginal palliative care first for Newcastle based Kathryn Bensley

Newcastle-based Kathryn Bensley is in a unique position.

Employed at the city’s Calvary Mater Hospital as a Senior Aboriginal Health Education Officer in Palliative Care, she is a recent graduate from the Aboriginal Health College in Sydney, where she completed the Certificate IV in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care (practice).

Ms Bensley says having completed 500 hours of practical experience, juggling the commitment with fulltime work and family, she is now Australia’s first Registered Aboriginal Health Practitioner (RAHP) in palliative care.

“My scope of practice is firstly education. That is, education for non-Aboriginal staff and medical students about the customs, beliefs and practices of Aboriginal people.  I also educate Aboriginal people about palliative care and what it means for them and their families when they are diagnosed with a terminal disease and the need for them to consider end of life care.

“In addition, I work as a support person, liaison officer and advocate for Aboriginal patients and their families in the community, hospitals and nursing homes. I lend advocacy and cultural support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients attending specialist clinics or hospital appointments.

“I’ve been extremely privileged to be with Aboriginal patients at the end of life. Death is a scary word for Aboriginal people – that fear of the unknown.”

Ms Bensley says there are many complexities around gender and culture in her work.

“Dying in country is important, but it depends on the person and the support they can get. The more traditional people are, the more important it is to them to observe their customs. Others who aren’t so traditional don’t worry as much about where they die, and they are more open to talking about death and dying.”

Ms Bensley’s work takes her out and about in the Newcastle community where she is well known.

In an ideal world, she would like a male health worker or volunteer working with her.

“Some men in the Aboriginal community are reluctant to speak to a woman about health issues for cultural reasons and there are times a male presence would make all the difference,” she said.

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