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Working it Out Together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led co-design for a strong a deadly health workforce

Project Summary

How do we embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into place-based/face-based planning and action for a stable and effective primary health care workforce that engenders community trust in local care delivery? We know that insufficient recruitment and retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the health workforce limits cultural security and trust. We also know that previous attempts to address these issues have failed and have not involved Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in a systematic way. Through this project, we hope to address these issues and explore practical, collaborative, inclusive strategies which can be implemented in three locations across the country.

Our Investigators

  • Associate Professor Veronica Matthews
  • Emma Walke


  • Professor Sarah Larkins, James Cook University
  • Associate Professor Catrina-Felton-Busch, James Cook University
  • Dr Sean Taylor, Menzies School of Health Research
  • Dr Paul Burgess, Monash University
  • Marni Tuala, First Nations Co
  • Renee Blackman, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service
  • Dr Karen Carlisle, James Cook University

Partner organisations

The project is support by the National Health and Medical Research Council and supported by partner organisation James Cook University.


Four-year project currently underway (2022-2026)

What does the Project focus on?

The project will take a systems wide approach, planning, implementing and evaluating action to address health workforce will occur through a number of objectives:

  • Engaging community members, health service managers or boards, and partner organisations in designing and implementing ground-up approaches to strengthen systems for enhanced continuity of health care and trusting relationships.
  • Building equitable systems for local skills-based training and development to increase and sustain the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers in a service.
  • Using community-led planning and capacity development of the non-Indigenous health workforce to improve patterns of turnover and strengthen community trust in health systems.
  • Exploring optimal strategies for strengthening the equity of governance and education systems for the PHC workforce, including professional training and development to ensure effectiveness of local strategies.
  • Learning from these locally implemented processes to facilitate scale out/up to a broader range of settings.

What do we expect to achieve with this project when complete?

We plan to work in partnership with services and a range of key sector partners. We will draw on existing primary health care implementation frameworks to develop a culturally-centred and strengths-based process framework that considers the key domains of successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary health care models (such as cultural embeddedness and genuine engagement etc). We will use this to co-design (with community and key stakeholders) workforce strategies to strengthen competency and stability. We will then trial and adapt these strategies in three implementation sites, representing a range of geographical contexts and governance models. We will design the project following Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander priorities for research quality and measure outcomes including staff turnover, number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, community usage, community rating of safety, trust and respect with the service and cost benefit.