Consider the following: if we own a car that is experiencing mechanical problems, we usually would seek the advice and services of a mechanic, who is an expert as demonstrated by their qualifications. We expect the mechanic to be able to diagnose any known mechanical problems that we, as the car owner, cannot be expected to know. We expect the mechanic to explain to us what is wrong with our car, to investigate and apply the most efficient ways of fixing the problem and to be held accountable if she/he misdiagnoses or maltreats the mechanical needs of the car. We, as the owner, cannot be responsible for fixing the mechanical problems that are beyond our particular expertise and knowledge.
Acknowledging the somewhat simple nature of this analogy, we ask what does such an analogy offer when considering the health of Aboriginal people? No other group within the Australian population experiences the level of health disparity that exists within the Aboriginal communities. Health professionals – with their qualifications, health knowledge and skills – play a role in reducing these ongoing health disparities between Aboriginal and non‐Aboriginal people. For the purposes of this article, the term ‘Aboriginal’ will be used to represent Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Despite health professionals only playing a small part in the diverse factors influencing health and health care outcomes it is useful to ask a range of questions. These questions include: Could the continuing poor health of Aboriginal people be partly caused by health practitioners due to the practitioners not receiving the education required for reducing the ongoing health disparities? Could health professional’s engagement with individuals and/or community also be a factor? Have practitioners not made the contribution they could or should do in this area? Do we expect practitioners to be sufficiently skilled to substantially reduce the gap?
Just as we would expect a qualified mechanic to be able to repair different cars, regardless of their colour, a qualified doctor or other health professional should be able to effectively treat people from different populations with identified medical problems – regardless of their background. What if a mechanic said they could not work on your car because it is blue and they have not received blue car training? If we would not normally accept this from our mechanics, why should we accept this from our health professionals? In other words, the generic skills of health care professionals are assumed. What is of interest here is what can influence the application or these skills?