How racism impacts health care


Aboriginal flag painted on bricks

A new policy statement on racism in the health system has been released by the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association

“Racism is not always overt; it is about beliefs, stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination,” AIDA said in a statement.

“Although progress is being made, racism is still deeply engrained in the structures underpinning Australia’s health system and at times, continues to influence the behaviour and attitudes of people working in the health system.

“It is widely recognised that racism is a social determinant of health and has been shown to lead to poorer mental and physical health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Racism also provides a barrier towards increasing and retaining an Indigenous health workforce.”

Systemic racism exacerbates stress levels, influencing poorer mental and physical health outcomes, the policy statement says.

Past experiences of racism in the health system also contribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people avoiding those settings for fear of repeated exposure to racism, which also inhibits their access to health care.

AIDA affirmed that:

  • Racism needs to be recognised as a strong barrier to achieving a culturally safe health system and that this should be reflected in all health sector and national policies relating to Indigenous doctors and medical students and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing;
  • A zero tolerance approach towards racism should be adopted across the health sector;
  • Actively pursuing a culturally safe health system provides the most promising path towards eliminating racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors and medical students and increasing Indigenous Australians’ access to the health system; and
  • Given their unique ability to align clinical and socio-cultural skills to improve access to services and provide culturally appropriate care for their people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals play an important role in improving cultural safety and health outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

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