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Chancellor’s medal for graduate midwife

Amanda Jones

1 April 2015: For Aboriginal woman and inaugural Tom Calma medallist Karel Williams, graduating with a Bachelor of Midwifery today from the University of Canberra and already working as a registered midwife is the realisation of a life-long ambition.

After working in the public service for many years, the mother-of-four said she never stopped wondering what it would have been like to be a midwife. When the University of Canberra offered a Bachelor of Midwifery in 2009 she applied and was accepted into the first intake.

"I have always found the whole process of pregnancy and birth fascinating. I have wanted to be a midwife since I was at school, but there were life events that prevented me from pursuing this goal," she said.

Ms Williams, whose previous career included stints at the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and the Australian Public Service in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy and program areas, said the degree offered the right combination of practice and theory.

"We worked with women right from the beginning of the course, attending their antenatal and postnatal visits as well as their births, and undertaking rostered practice in a range of hospital and community settings.

"Supporting women and their families through this period was and continues to be a privilege," she added.

Ms Williams will be presented with the inaugural Tom Calma Medal at her graduation ceremony this morning. It is awarded in honour of the University's first Indigenous Chancellor to a graduating Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander student who has achieved outstanding academic results while making a valuable contribution to the University or wider community.

In her second-year, Ms Williams, whose mother is a Wybra woman from south-east Tasmania and her father an Arrernte/Waramungu man from Central Australia, did a placement at the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service in Narrabundah. There she worked with Aboriginal women offering antenatal and postnatal care and returned to the service in her third-year where she provided supervised continuity of care to a number of women throughout their pregnancy, during labour and following birth.

"It was really important for me to be able to work with women in my community and they told me this made a great deal of difference. Having an Aboriginal midwife who they were familiar with helped them to feel safe and made their experiences better and special for them. It was really special for me too," she said.

Ms Williams has begun work as a graduate midwife at Canberra's Centenary Hospital for Women and Children, where she will spend the next six months working in the Canberra Midwifery Program at the Birth Centre, which is a low-intervention, continuity of care model.

Her long-term goal is to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their families, saying there is a need for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals.

"The challenges in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health are multiple and complex and need to be addressed in a holistic way, and increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals in the workforce is just one of the ways we can begin to address this," she said.

"The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander midwifery workforce for example, needs to be increased almost fivefold to achieve parity according to the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives."

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