18 March 2021

Peter Thomsen's vision for cultural education


NTGPE’s Manager of Cultural Education, Peter Thomsen's Aboriginality comes from the Butchella tribe from Fraser Island in Qld and through his father’s adoption and initiation process into the Gunibidji tribe in Maningrida. Peter grew up on the floodplains of the Adelaide River in the NT and has connections to Kakadu region in the NT, and also Wyndham in WA. He started with NTGPE as a Senior Cultural Educator in 2020, but his journey in cultural education started on the day he was born. He practices both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures and lives in both worlds making him a perfect candidate to lead the cultural education team at NTGPE.

“I’ve put my hand up to be an Aboriginal and defend my Aboriginality and I’ve had to put up my hand for my Balanda (non-Aboriginal) side. I practice both cultures and live in both worlds and this gives me great depth in understanding what the two groups are thinking about each other. Cultural education comes with who I am as a person” said Peter.

“I was a cultural educator for NTGPE when it was first set up in the early 2000s, and worked as a liaison officer with the Menzies School of Health Research. I come from a background in media so my intention is to focus on creating good communication that helps people to close the gap in health inequities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. It's time to be brave and try new things to get a good result."

What is the role of the team?

“The primary goal of the cultural education team is to ensure GP registrars operate in a way that it is culturally safe and acceptable for Aboriginal patients.

“We act as the conduit between the two worlds of doctor and Aboriginal patient, and while this might seem simple enough on the surface, it is extraordinarily complex in practice.

“The NT is a diverse and complex place. We have a broad Aboriginal population practicing diverse culture and practices in different regions. Not only that, we are also have people practicing traditional ways of living and contemporary ways of living which presents a whole different set of values and attitudes.

“The challenge of our work is how to strip back this complexity and deliver training that is valuable and practicable to a group of doctors who have their own preconceived ideas about our people and who throughout their training will be moving around the Territory.

“We do this by having the right team and being innovative about how we teach. It’s about encouraging GP registrars to be ready to listen and to be willing to challenge and adapt. In my experience the biggest barrier to cultural awareness is when people are not willing to accept a scenario that is contrary to what they think is the reality.

“If a GP registrar can walk away from our sessions believing they can approach things differently in how they interact with Aboriginal people, then we’ve had a win. Our goal is to do that with every GP registrar in the program.”

How does the CE team work with the rest of the organisation?

“The collaboration between the cultural education team and the medical education team is vital. I would like to see more involvement and interaction with the cultural education team particularly how cultural training connects to the training posts, GP supervisors and medical educators. I feel like there is more we can be doing, but I don’t yet know what that looks like.

“Cultural education is a mandatory and permanent feature of the GP training at NTGPE and a good framework exists but I believe we need more to drive it forward. I would like to start looking at how different media can be used to facilitate this, to build on what is taught at orientation and the workshops and to strengthen understanding between all the groups involved in primary health care.

“A key area I would like to work on is building rapport with the GP registrars, so they feel confident to ask when they don’t know. I also think it’s necessary to strengthen the link between GP registrars and cultural mentors on the ground in communities. They are a valuable, easily accessible resource for GP registrars that are underutilised in my opinion and we need this relationship to build a foundation where we can talk about complex cultural issues.”

The value of working towards the same outcome

“I’ve learned the easiest way to create change is through dealing with likeminded people who are trying to do the same thing and have the same thoughts and understanding of how to collaborate and work together. If we do this, we are going to get the best result for Aboriginal people.

“Today GP registrars have a different mentality than they had when I worked with NTGPE in the past. I see doctors who genuinely want to make a difference in Aboriginal people’s lives, and this is a significant advantage.

“If the cultural education team can support the doctors and facilitate the right training tools at the right time, we will go a long way to change things.”

Visit the cultural education page

Peter Thomsen