Professor Elizabeth (Beth) Armstrong has always been passionate about working with people who have suffered brain injuries and other neurological disorders. It was this passion that led Professor Armstrong to explore the apparent underrepresentation of Aboriginal clients on clinical rehabilitation caseloads across the country. Her work as a clinical speech pathologist in Sydney, onto her PhD in language recovery, establishing the first Master of Speech Pathology course in NSW at Macquarie University, finally brought her to ECU to establish the Bachelor of Speech Pathology. Working at ECU provided Professor Armstrong with the networks to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal researchers and clients she needed to develop her critical research journey.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians experience acquired brain injury (ABI) - stroke and traumatic brain injury - with much greater frequency than non-Aboriginal Australians. Yet few Aboriginal people access rehabilitation services, and little is known about their experiences of stroke and traumatic brain injury and short- or long-term outcomes.
Professor Armstrong leads a national multidisciplinary team of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal researchers in a unique program of applied research to support Aboriginal Australians living with an ABI. Their work aims to better support Aboriginal Australians experiencing an ABI by working in partnership with health providers to identify their needs and build workforce capacity.
Professor Armstrong was inspired by Aboriginal brain injury survivors and their families providing stories of their experiences in a previous state-wide project entitled Missing Voices. Incorporating recommendations from these stories, her team has developed a number of projects to assist Aboriginal brain injury survivors who felt they were not able to access rehabilitation services and often felt that they had to recover ‘on their own.’ In addition, this program of research has raised awareness of the effects of brain injury among Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal health organisations and has given a voice to Aboriginal Australians in the discussion surrounding the need for more culturally secure health services. The research to date has led to the training of over 150 Aboriginal health workers and 300 health professionals in the fields of allied health, medicine and nursing.
While Professor Armstrong’s research portfolio is extensive, below she shares with us two of her research projects involving Aboriginal Australians who have suffered an ABI to highlight her focus on meaningful research with real-world impact.
‘Healing Right Way’ is a randomized control trial that is working to improve the quality of life of Aboriginal Australians who have suffered an ABI, through the provision of improved rehabilitation services. This program focuses on providing cultural training for hospital staff and employing Aboriginal Brain Injury Coordinators who are based in the community to provide support to impacted families.
Brain Injury Yarning Circles
In partnership with Geraldton Regional Aboriginal Medical Service and Moorditj Koort Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre in Perth, Professor Armstrong and her team are establishing and evaluating the first support groups for Aboriginal brain injury survivors and their families to encourage social and emotional wellbeing and ultimately improve health outcomes.
When asked what advice she would give to ECU researchers thinking about conducting research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities, Beth said:
“Connection and collaboration with local Aboriginal communities is essential for all research endeavours. Research must be rooted in issues and topics identified by communities as being of value. Hence, there is a lot of preliminary work that must be undertaken before a research project is formulated and commenced. There needs to be ongoing attention to the cultural security of the project and ongoing feedback from community is essential. Planned, clear benefits to community must be present from the outset of any project. The project’s consultation processes, and strict ethical approvals required will draw attention to how and whether the project meets requirements in this regard.”
For more information on the Healing Right Way project, visit the School of Medical and Health Sciences Research webpage.
For advice on who may be able to assist you in developing and refining your research at Kurongkurl Katitjin, contact ECU Research Services at email@example.com.
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