Taking another step towards Reconciliation


The APA has just launched its third Reconciliation Action Plan, focusing on making the physiotherapy profession culturally safe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals and patients and providing a viable and clear career pathway for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in physiotherapy. A conversation with APA President Scott Willis and APA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Committee Chair Kathryn Potter about Reconciliation and the importance of the RAP.

With the launch last month of the APA’s third Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), the APA has moved forward on its Reconciliation journey.

Spanning 2022–2024, the ‘Innovate’ RAP is all about implementing initiatives and actions to achieve the APA’s vision for Reconciliation.

Developed by a working group led by Scott Willis, the APA’s first Aboriginal National President, and including CEO Anja Nikolic, members of the APA’s leadership team and members of the APA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Committee, the Innovate RAP reflects the cultural shift the APA has undergone since beginning its Reconciliation journey in 2012 and its recognition that there is still a lot more to do.

‘From where we’ve come to where we are now is a significant jump forward.

'It’s embedded within the organisation and I hope in the future it will just become part of everyday life for everyone involved in the APA,’ says Scott.

‘I’m very proud to be a leader of an organisation that takes it seriously but also acts on what it says it’s going to do.

'So many other organisations have a good Reconciliation Action Plan but don’t act on it; they just leave it on the shelf and it collects dust.’

Kathryn Potter, an Aboriginal physiotherapist and the new chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Committee, says the RAP provides assurance to the APA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members that the APA is working towards Reconciliation.

‘I hope this will achieve a sense that we are working within a culturally safe profession.

'It also allows us to feel proud to be a part of an organisation and a profession that are working towards achieving Reconciliation.

'This pride allows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be more empowered in their workplaces to effect change,’ Kathryn says.

The three main themes in the APA’s Innovate RAP are relationships, respect and opportunities.

All three are intertwined to contribute to improved health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:

  • relationships—the APA recognises that strong relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are fundamental to achieving better health outcomes
  • respect—we recognise that cultural respect is integral to social and emotional wellbeing and consequentially to improvements in the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • opportunities—the APA values the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander physiotherapy professionals and their contribution to the work and overall governance of the APA. We recognise the importance of a strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce.

‘The two key initiatives here are: (1) working towards a culturally safe profession for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals and patients and (2) ensuring that physiotherapy as a profession is seen as a viable career choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to aspire to,’ says Kathryn.

Scott says that the new RAP sees the APA stepping outside its comfort zone to delve more deeply into what can be done to achieve Reconciliation.

‘It’s not just about doing a Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country.

'In the past that’s what we thought was Reconciliation; that’s all we really had to do,’ he says.

‘We are making some changes now where we are offering scholarships for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members to become directors.

'We are assisting in funding resources for Aboriginal communities in their languages so they actually understand what their lung conditions are and how they can assist in managing their conditions.

'We are looking at ways to bring students in secondary schools into physiotherapy courses and assisting physiotherapy students to finish their degrees and to have a pathway to become physiotherapists so they can then bring it back to their own community.

'We are actually starting to see some tangible outcomes for the betterment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and that’s something that I never thought I’d see.’

Kathryn says that the Reconciliation process is not without its challenges as the APA strives to deliver on the actions outlined in the RAP.

‘I believe we need to continue supporting organisations and professionals to participate in Reconciliation in an effective way.

'We need to support allies who are wanting to do this work.

'We need to continue to provide direction and to encourage people to engage with their local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities so as to be able to participate in a meaningful way that builds Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians,’ she says.

She says it’s important for the APA to continue working with staff and members to improve community engagement, not just within specific initiatives and projects but consistently over time.

Fighting institutional racism is another big challenge for the APA to address as it works through the RAP, Kathryn says.

‘Institutional racism can be very challenging as you are not working with individuals and their own innate biases but with a collective of individuals within a system that perpetuates racism.

'It can be very hard to detect when you are within the system.

'The challenges are not just in identifying institutional racism, but in knowing who to report it to, how to take action in response to concerns and how to make sure you feel safe within your workplace in doing so,’ she says.

Kathryn says that the APA’s RAP has a number of anti-discrimination deliverables for within the organisation and can also play an important role in supporting members within their own organisations and workplaces to achieve a system free of racism.

Ultimately, the APA’s RAP doesn’t just work towards Reconciliation within the physiotherapy profession.

It’s also an important part of Closing the Gap, particularly in health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.

‘A RAP helps to build relationships, cultural respect and opportunities.

'By building on these we can work towards Reconciliation and Closing the Gap in health by having positive effects on the social and emotional wellbeing and better health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,’ Kathryn says.

Our vision for Reconciliation

The APA’s vision for Reconciliation is for all Australians to value and recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge, expertise, connections to land and sea and traditional ways of healing and for stronger relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians based on trust and respect and free of racism.

The APA is working towards this vision by continuing our efforts to create a more culturally safe physiotherapy profession and by enhancing the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the profession.

We encourage and recognise cultural bravery in our various roles as health professionals, experts, researchers, educators, advocates and collaborators.

We are striving to become an industry leader in advancing Reconciliation in Australia and we support our staff and members along their own Reconciliation journeys, which in turn will support broader collective efforts towards Reconciliation in Australia.

Click here for more details of the APA’s Reconciliation Action Plan.

Championing the cause for Indigenous physiotherapists

Kathryn Potter has recently taken on the role of chair of the APA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Committee, a position she will hold for the next couple of years.

A proud Kamilaroi woman, Kathryn is a physiotherapist with Metro South Health in South East Queensland, where she works as an Advanced Physiotherapist in the Women’s, Men’s and Pelvic Health Physiotherapy Service at Logan Hospital.

Kathryn is also the Managing Director and co-founder of Physiotherapy Innovations, a business company she started in 2014 to market her respiratory device Therabubble—a bubble ‘positive expiratory pressure’ device for airway clearance and improved ventilation.

In addition to her physiotherapy work, Kathryn is active in the Indigenous business and health community in Queensland as a mentor, an educator and a leader.

‘I participate in a lot of different activities bringing my experience as an Aboriginal woman, clinician and business owner to help support other Indigenous people,’ Kathryn says.

In her new role as chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Committee, Kathryn sees herself as a change-maker as well as a leader.

‘I love to give other people opportunities and I think being chair will allow me to facilitate that and help others along their career paths, rather than being the main “do-er” in the committee,’ Kathryn says.

‘What I want to achieve as the chair is to work towards providing development opportunities for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander physiotherapists, not only those on the committee but those working within our profession also.

'I really want to help grow the people around me so that they can be competitive in decision-making roles as we move towards having more Indigenous voices in these spaces.’

Her first big task as committee chair is to lead a discussion on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Committee’s terms of reference, which will be updated to better reflect the committee’s role and responsibilities into the future.

Kathryn is complimentary of the APA’s efforts in working towards its RAP goals, noting their integrity and transparency throughout the process.

‘I see the value in the work that’s being done so I feel very proud to be leading that group and I really enjoy working with the APA.

'Being part of the committee has been nothing but a pleasure and I feel like we are making a difference,’ says Kathryn.

To learn more about Kathryn’s journey as a physiotherapist, click here to listen to episode 1 of season 2 of The Deadly Physios podcast.

Main image: Kathryn Potter is the new chair of the APA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Committee.

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