Antoinette White: inaugural recipient of the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services scholarship.

Antoinette White: inaugural recipient of the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services scholarship.
31 January 2023

Promoting Indigenous voices are vital in improving health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Antoinette White, a Palawa and Iningai woman, hopes to do just this as the inaugural recipient of the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) Master of Philosophy in Applied Epidemiology (MAE) scholarship.

“As Indigenous people, we bring a unique vision to the team,” says Antoinette. “Just because we are sharing one country, doesn’t mean we share the same worldview. There are opportunities to help others understand why we are who we are.”

The ACCHS scholarship is funded by generous donation from Margaret Douglas and the Mayi Kuwayu Study. It has created the opportunity for Antoinette to learn from the MAE program and apply this knowledge in her field placement at the Institute of Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH, a not-for-profit regional community controlled health organisation), where she is currently employed.

“I love working at IUIH. It’s a place where everyone comes together to create the power and the authority to make a real difference to the community in South East Queensland,” says Antoinette. “I’m excited to gain more skills that will better help our community to move forward.”

It was through her work at IUIH that Antoinette learnt about the Mayi Kuwayu Study – a study based at ANU that looks at how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander wellbeing is linked to cultural determinants like connection to country, cultural practices, spirituality and language use. Antoinette has been collaborating with the Mayi Kuwayu Study team to help learn more about the cultural determinants of health and agency of the people using IUIH services.

“IUIH has been working with the Mayi Kuwayu team to better understand our communities – who they are, where they belong, their language group, experiences with racism, how they access healthcare. That’s why we make such a great collaborative team. Because the things they are asking about are the things that IUIH want to know about.”

To some, these huge quantities of data might seem overwhelming. But Antoinette is excited by the challenge.

“I’m one of those weird and unique individuals who didn’t mind working with large volumes of data,” she says. “Sometimes people talk about epidemiologists and being detectives. And that’s me. I always want to know the answer: what story is this data telling me about the community I work within? And it’s often something that no one else knows, so that was even more exciting.”

“I’m realistic though. Sometimes it might be that you don’t get an answer at the end, or it might inspire more questions. That doesn’t bother me. I like to be part of that process.”

For her Masters, this process will involve helping the community see the benefit and better understand how decisions are made based on the Mayi Kuwayu Study data, for example informing policy and identifying areas where health and wellbeing can be improved. The MAE program also involves placement at another institution, course work, and completion of a research thesis.

Professor Tony Stewart, Director of the MAE program, says the ACCHS scholarship has set a benchmark that benefits the ACCHS, MAE program, and students.

“Supporting an Indigenous MAE Scholar to conduct their field placement with an ACCHS helps build this Indigenous cohort of public health leaders, and importantly, builds the capacity of the ACCHS to better respond to health priorities in their community,” he says.

“We are proud to note that Indigenous graduates represent 15% of the graduating cohort and are highly sought after by field placement organisations dedicated to better Indigenous health outcomes.”

Antoinette White at the IUIH mural celebrating two honourable community members - Aunty Pam Mam and Tiga Bayles.