The Yorta Yorta OnCountry4Health Program for students in the Doctor of Medicine Course at the University of Melbourne is a joint initiative developed collaboratively between Yorta Yorta Elders, Traditional Custodians and the Melbourne Medical School. This four day, Indigenous–led educational experience for selected Second, Third and Final Year medical students provides an opportunity to hear from Elders and Traditional Custodians about the culture and history of the Yorta Yorta people, how their health has been affected by colonisation and their responses to addressing health needs.
At the University of Melbourne in 2009, transition planning from a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) undergraduate course to a Doctor of Medicine graduate course was underway. Since 2007 the Australian Medical Council Accreditation Standards have specifically required every medical program in Australia and New Zealand to provide comprehensive coverage of Indigenous health, which includes studies of the history, culture and health of the Indigenous peoples of Australia or New Zealand (AMC 2012). At the time of transition planning, in the MBBS course, these were taught using didactic methods in class room spaces, or in case studies that often saw Indigenous people in a negative light due to the severity of their health issues.
We were also discovering through course feedback that Indigenous health presented a challenge for many students in our existing course, and that the content required deeper thinking and learning in order for them to appreciate Indigenous views and circumstances. Holbrook et al. (2007) note that among students preferring didactic lectures, ‘scholarly critical appraisal prove(s) difficult to conceptualise and challenging to accomplish’. Bruce (1994) found that students have to ‘…attain significant shifts in understanding in order to conceive (their work) as a tool for demonstrating their grasp of theory’.
In addition, Transformative Learning Theory (Mezirow 1997) asserts that individuals must critically reflect on life events in order to change their beliefs or behaviours. Comments from our students indicated widespread disengagement, for example, ‘we don’t see how history still affects health today’ and ‘we don’t have time for extra reading’ (student feedback).
Therefore, the Melbourne Medical School felt a fresh approach was required to address challenges in the teaching and learning of Indigenous health, which led to the establishment of OnCountry4Health.