Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have the right to the highest attainable standard of health and access to health services without discrimination. To uphold these rights, it is important that optometry students are educated in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and culturally safe practice.
An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health curriculum framework is now mandatory for optometry programs to implement. This study explores the experiences of those involved in implementing this framework and, from their perspectives, what is and is not working.
Heads and educators involved in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health curriculum at Australian optometry programs participated in a mixed-methods study. Information about pedagogy and contextual issues impacting curriculum implementation was collected through surveys and interviews. The design and analysis were underpinned by constructivist grounded theory.
Most programs had at least partially implemented components of the curriculum framework. While partnerships were considered essential to success, this remains a work in progress. Authentic learning through clinical placement was considered a priority. Assessment was described as complex and not yet adequately addressed. Only 37% of educators felt fully prepared to teach and 6% to assess this curriculum. More workload allocation, funding and recruitment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and students through institutional commitment and leadership were perceived requirements.
Further developing sustainable partnerships where there is reciprocity between optometry programs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators and communities is critical to effectively implementing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health curriculum. While clinical placement was considered an important learning experience, the type of experience and whether or not all students should attend require further consideration. Additionally, educators need support for professional development and sharing resources in this emerging field. This will contribute to improving culturally safe practice in optometry.