Closing the gap in health inequity
Coming to UTS offered Dr Megan Williams an ideal opportunity to link her experience, interests and networks in a new way, and in a place where social justice is more than just words.
“The social justice statement is central to the university’s vision, and there is a real atmosphere that it is achievable,” she says. “My core drive is for all Australians, or as many as possible, to hear directly from Aboriginal people about their experiences and needs and knowledges. UTS’s vision very much supports where I want to go.”
Megan joined UTS in the Graduate School of Health (GSH) in May 2017, bringing with her more than two decades’ experience at the crossroads of public health, criminal justice and Aboriginal affairs. Her core emphasis is on Aboriginal self-determination and leadership in improving health and wellbeing, particularly within the criminal justice system and post-release.
My core drive is for all Australians, or as many as possible, to hear directly from Aboriginal people about their experiences and needs and knowledges. UTS’s vision very much supports where I want to go.
“We've got good data that shows that Aboriginal people experience racism on a daily basis, and the health system is one of the key places that happens,” Megan explains.
“Aboriginal ways of caregiving have something to offer all Australians — they are holistic, connected and cross-generational; they're spiritual as well as being emotional, physical, mental, social. Aboriginal people’s voices also need to lead the solutions.”
Megan’s deep respect for community provides a solid base for learning how to better translate research into policy, practice and education. Research translation has been the impetus for her work in the collaborative Maridulu Budyari Gumal Sydney Partnership for Health, Education and Research Enterprise, funded by UTS in partnership with other universities, local health districts and public health networks in the Sydney basin. She participates in its Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing Clinical Academic Group with a focus on improving health care for Aboriginal people prisons and post-release.
To deepen her sense of what research translation means in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health context, Megan volunteers and participates in community events. She is a research associate of community organisations including the First Peoples Disability Network, and trains others in research. She contributes to social journalism for independent health media organisation Croakey.org and has recently undertaken a media mentoring program through the Australian Science Media Centre.
Megan’s position at GSH was specifically created to drive real progress in meeting its Indigenous Graduate Attributes — an explicit commitment to improving cultural competency in staff and students for improved outcomes for Indigenous Australians.
“I think that training the next generation of the health workforce is key to closing the gap in health inequity between Aboriginal people and others in Australia,” she explains. “There's an open opportunity here to develop new curriculum across a suite of allied health care, including pharmacy, physiotherapy, orthoptics, psychology, genetic counselling and speech pathology, as well as public health.”
A Wiradjuri descendent with Anglo-Celtic heritage, Megan says that UTS’s commitment to Aboriginal leadership in research is complemented by visible action towards greater representation of women in key roles.
“It was visible from the outside that there were more women at UTS in senior leadership positions, and knowing that UTS is seeking Athena SWAN bronze accreditation — which means auditing and engaging — influenced my decision to come here.”
Photography: Andy Roberts