School of Population Health

Indigenous Health & Wellbeing Across the Lifespan (PHCM9632)

image - Indigenous Health & Wellbeing Across the Lifespan


This course is offered in external mode.  There is a workshop offered for students enrolled in this course. Attendance at the workshop is compulsory.

This course introduces students to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander understandings of the opportunities and challenges to health and wellbeing across the lifespan and the importance of embedding these understandings into health promotion action. It will explore the many contexts of Indigenous Australian lives and the concepts of wellbeing, healing, connection and spirituality to understand the deeply held values of belonging and strength. Students will be introduced to primary health care service models and parallel models of education and social services that are designed to provide comprehensive and holistic care and promote cultural safety and security of clients and families. The course will also examine the principles and application of empowerment and leadership, dialogue, participatory action research, community organisations, inter-sectoral planning and service delivery, advocacy and community development as mechanisms of change.

Credit points

This course is an elective of the Master of Public Health Program, comprising 6 units of credit towards the total required for completion of the study program. It is also a stream-defining course of the Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing Specialisation of the Master of Public Health. Students from other programs and disciplines are most welcome.

Mode of study

This course is offered in external (distance) mode.  There is an compulsory workshop offered for students enrolled in this course.

Course aim

The aim of this course is to enhance students’ appreciation and understanding of key challenges to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the lifespan. It aims to prepare students to become empathetic, reflective and empowering members of the Indigenous health workforce who are confident in working with families and communities to achieve positive outcomes.

Course Outcomes
  • Describe and apply key principles of working effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and demonstrate cultural sensitivity in oral and written communication

  • Analyse and discuss key comparative indicators for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples including social determinants and their implications for health and wellbeing across the lifespan
  • Identify key life transition stages across the lifecourse for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and discuss their implications for using strength-based strategies at individual/family, organisation/community and structural levels
  • Discuss the role of Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing, identity, belonging and related concepts and critically review their relevance to working effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the lifespan
  • Identify strategies for contributing to the application of empowerment principles in, program design, service delivery, research and Indigenous health policy implementation
  • Identify and analyse the methodological challenges and potential of measuring empowerment and wellbeing and of evaluating programs that aim to facilitate sustainable positive change
Learning and teaching rationale
In all of our coursework on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, we embed a number of key principles into our teaching and learning. These include:
  • Acknowledging and encouraging the sharing of pre-existing and developing ideas, experiences and knowledge among students throughout the term
  • Stimulating an integration of multidisciplinary information and methods of inquiry into your learning
  • Employing a transformational learning approach that aims to support and challenge you in both learning and applying the understandings you gain personally and professionally
  • Considering the promotion of social, emotional, mental, cultural and spiritual wellbeing at all stages in life on equal par with physical health, and viewing health and wellbeing as on a distinct and separate continuum to the absence of diagnosable illness
  • Employing a strengths-based, rather than a deficits-based, approach in our thinking, discussing, writing and taking action to promote health and wellbeing, and
  • Understanding that, as health and helping professionals, our own wellbeing is an important determinant of our ability to assist others.
Teaching strategies

An initial three-day compulsory workshop introduces you to the principles of empowerment and their place in wellbeing. It will provide you with a deep appreciation of Aboriginal ways of understanding wellbeing, emotions, relationships, identity and culture. Students are encouraged to explore the transitions in their own lives and those of their family and friends and consider the ways that relationships and circumstances impact on people’s capacity to face challenges. You will use this as a basis for in-depth exploration of those strengths and challenges impacting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – at key life transitions and in different contexts – as they relate to health and wellbeing.


Assessment Task 1 - Essay on the theory and principles of empowerment in relation to promoting the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Weighting: 35%
Length: 2000-2500 words

Assessment Task 2 - In depth analysis of a health challenge facing Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people at a particular life stage: causes, consequences and strategies for solutions
Weighting: 50%
Length: 3000-3500 words

Assessment Task 3 - Three most significant contributions to online group discussions
Weighting: 15%
Length: Maximum 350 words for each posting

Readings and resources

Learning resources for this course consist of the following:

  1. Course notes and readings (posted in Moodle)
  2. Workshop presentation slides (posted in Moodle)
  3. Supplementary resources such as videos, podcasts (available in Moodle)
  4. Textbooks

Dudgeon, P., Milroy, H., & Walker, R. (Eds.). (2014). Working Together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Wellbeing Principles and Practice (2nd ed.). Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Thackrah, R., Scott, K., & Winch, J. (Eds.). (2011). Indigenous Australian Health and Cultures: An Introduction for Health Professionals (1st ed.). French’s Forest, NSW: Pearson Australia. [This text is available in the UNSW library and UNSW Bookshop.]