September 4, 2018
Kristy Crooks is a proud Aboriginal woman doing innovative research to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
What is your role as Aboriginal Program Manager for the Health Protection Unit of Hunter New England Population Health?
My role as Aboriginal Program Manager is to lead and manage the development and delivery of health protection projects for the control of communicable diseases in the community. Integral to my role is participation in the development of communicable disease response protocols and programs. These are developed with respectful community engagement and reflect the needs and issues, as well as priorities, of Aboriginal communities in the area.
What attracted you to working with APPRISE and adding research and a PhD to your work?
I was invited by my manager to take part in the initial consultation for APPRISE, and an opportunity came up for me to continue to work with APPRISE.
As an Aboriginal woman working in infectious diseases, it is important to ensure there is a community voice that contributes to research impacting Aboriginal people.
An opportunity came up for me to undertake important work around how to ensure Aboriginal people are involved in the planning and response to infectious disease emergencies. It was this work that led to the idea of embarking on a PhD journey. With the support of work colleagues, APPRISE friends and flexible study options, I jumped at the chance to dive into something daunting yet very exciting.
What is your research focus?
My research will focus on designing and evaluating a culturally appropriate governance structure that will explore how Aboriginal peoples can have a real say and participate in real shared decision making and have an understanding of the planning and response to infectious disease emergencies. It is through this research that policy makers will develop an understanding and experience of operating within a governance model that privileges Aboriginal voices.
How have you found your PhD so far? What excites you about your project?
To be honest it was quite daunting at first. I was unsure what I had gotten myself into. Balancing work and a PhD has been a bit of a slow process, but I have a great team of supervisors who provide me with helpful advice and have been a good sounding board when I need it.
I am excited to learn from my supervisors. What excites me about my project is that I get to design and evaluate a type of governance structure where not much is known, especially in an Australian context. Testing this way of working with Aboriginal people in particular is very exciting as it may be a way that Aboriginal voices can be heard and their recommendations can be communicated at a national level.
Why do we need research to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities during infectious disease emergencies?
Research in the past has not always benefited Aboriginal people, therefore it is very important there are appropriate processes in place to ensure research is conducted in a respectful and meaningful way that values Aboriginal knowledge and experiences.
Conducting research with Aboriginal people is the only way we are going to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Aboriginal people and communities should guide researchers of their health priorities, and we as researchers support and facilitate that.
With regards to infectious disease emergencies, we need research to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so that public health professionals can better plan and respond to infectious disease emergencies. A ‘one size fits all’ approach to infectious diseases does not work, and respectful and meaningful engagement is essential if we want to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.
What do researchers need to do to make sure their research is culturally appropriate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities?
It is important that respectful and meaningful engagement with Aboriginal people occurs throughout the entire research process, from conception to dissemination of findings.
Researchers must obtain consent from the communities they work with and address the community’s research priorities and goals. Any research methods applied must be culturally appropriate in a way that values and honours Aboriginal knowledge, experiences and stories.
It is also important that researchers ensure there is appropriate representation of Aboriginal people on steering or advisory committees to:
- regularly give feedback and report to the community on the progress of the research
- have input into the findings and how they are reported and ensure this comes from a strengths-based approach
- acknowledge community contributions, authorship and intellectual property.
As a PhD scholar you have been a part of an observership with the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA). How have you found the CDNA observership helped with the development of your skills?
The CDNA observership has helped me to understand how decisions are made at the national level. It has been a great opportunity to observe presentations on a variety of health issues, and discussions on current and future directions for communicable disease control. The in-depth sessions have been extremely valuable and informative and has broadened my learning. I particularly found great value in the face-to-face meetings as they provided an opportunity to network with public health leaders.