The Centre of Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health (CAMDH) was established in 1996 at the University of Western Australia (UWA) to increase student recruitment and provide support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in the medical and dental courses (Paul, Carr & Milroy 2006). In addition, CAMDH was responsible for developing a comprehensive, integrated Aboriginal health curriculum that was implemented horizontally and vertically into the undergraduate medical course from 2000 onwards (Paul, Carr & Milroy 2006). In 2014, UWA transitioned from a six-year Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) course to a four-year graduate entry Medical Doctorate (MD) course. Transitioning to the graduate entry course required all teaching disciplines, including Aboriginal health, to re-evaluate their curriculum to ensure that key content embedded into the new curriculum enhanced student learning experiences and provided a knowledge base to graduate doctors with skills beyond basic medical competencies.
The transition to the graduate entry course presented both opportunities and challenges for CAMDH. The challenge was to ensure that the Aboriginal health curriculum continued to be horizontally and vertically integrated into the four-year course in a meaningful way. The opportunity lay in the ability to conceptualise new ways to engage and assess students. One example of this, and the focus of this paper, has been the introduction of a visual arts assessment for first year medical students.
Within medical education internationally, the visual arts have been used to enhance observational ability, improve diagnostic skills, increase the span of listening to the patient, and deepen compassion for suffering (Elder et al. 2006; Karkabi, Wald & Cohen Castel 2014; Reilly, Ring & Duke 2005; Bramstedt 2016). Art and storytelling remain a powerful means for communicating and understanding information. Medical schools and residency programs have increasingly incorporated various works from the humanities as tools to stimulate dialogue, discussion and awareness among their medical learners, particularly in areas of doctoring, the experience of illness and end-of-life issues (Elder et al. 2006; Karkabi, Wald & Cohen Castel 2014; Reilly, Ring & Duke 2005; Bramstedt 2016; Penn State News 2016).
The aim of introducing a visual arts assignment into the Aboriginal health curriculum was to provide students with an opportunity to explore the realities of Aboriginal health through a cultural lens. Since colonisation there have been, and still are, multiple factors that influence health and wellbeing in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population (Gri ths et al. 2016; RACGP 2012). A better understanding of these factors, as well as the utilisation of a holistic framework, is integral to providing culturally safe and secure health care services consistent with best practice health models (Griffiths et al. 2016; RACGP 2012).
Historically, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture has been expressed in a number of different modalities including oral language, song, dance, paintings and engraving. Stories related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander spirituality, connection to Country, kinship system, and (law) lore facilitate cultural continuity. The assessment requires students to express their early understanding of Aboriginal health in a format that is culturally oriented and unique within the medical curriculum.
In this paper we outline the innovation behind the concept, re ect on the receptiveness of students and staff , examine the infuence on student engagement with and understanding of Aboriginal health, and consider the implications for future student cohort engagement and whether it should remain in the curriculum. Finally, we discuss the transferability of this assessment to other health-related disciplines.