Dr Alana Gall, a Pakana woman, PHAA member, and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, is conducting crucial research into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander wellbeing.
A discerning paper led by Dr Gall, titled ‘Self-reported wellbeing and health-related quality of life of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people pre and post the first wave of COVID-19 2020 pandemic‘, and published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, is featured in the 2022 Wiley NAIDOC Collection.
Dr Gall discusses the paper’s findings, NAIDOC Week, and public health career so far in the below Q&A piece, first published by Wiley. Read the original Q&A article here.
Pakana Woman and Postdoctoral Research Fellow
I am a Pakana woman from the Northeast Coast of lutruwita (Tasmanian Aboriginal), and more recently, the Bass Strait Islands of Cape Barren and Flinders Island. I currently live on Yugambeh land, and work on the lands of the Turrbal and Jagera people.
What projects are you working on right now? / What does a day in your life look like as a researcher/practitioner?
I am currently working as a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Queensland in the First Nations Cancer & Wellbeing Research Team in the School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine. I am currently managing a project that is implementing the What Matters 2Adults (WM2A) wellbeing measure into cancer care centres in four Local Health Districts in New South Wales. I previously worked on the development of the WM2A measure, so it has been great seeing the research progress towards this next step that is even closer to bringing tangible benefits for my community at large. I also work across all the different wellbeing research projects our team is conducting.
What influenced you to work in Indigenous health, nutritional medicine, and wellbeing?
During my clinical training as a Naturopathic Medicine practitioner, I was exposed to health research for the first time in my life and was fascinated and impressed with how working in health research you had the potential to positively impact the health of many people at once. As I was a single Mum and my financial situation took a turn for the worse, I was not able to continue my degree in Naturopathic Medicine, as I needed to return to the workforce full time. I reflected on this idea of being able to impact the health of multiple people at once through research and decided I would set out to find a research career. I ended up getting a position at the Lowitja Institute, which then led me to meet researchers at Menzies School of Health Research. It was here, under Professor Gail Garvey (now at UQ) that I obtained a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine), a Masters by Research, and recently a Doctor of Philosophy. While studying I also worked as a Research Officer and a Community Engagement and Research Translation Officer. Through the research I have conducted and contributed to in the past, and the wellbeing research I am working on now, this fast-paced high pressure work environment brings a smile to my face whenever I think about how much difference our work is making for the whole Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. This is why I do this, this is why it is important, to see actual change that achieves sustainable benefits to the health and wellbeing of my community at large.
What was the most interesting/important or perhaps unexpected finding in your recent study?
The most unexpected finding in the research we did that you are including in this NAIDOC edition, was the significant differences in self-rated wellbeing and Health Related Quality of Life (HRQoL) between different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups at baseline – so before the pandemic hit! We found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults who experience financial instability, have a pre-existing mental health comorbidity, or have six or more comorbidities, had significantly lower self-rated wellbeing and HRQoL than those who didn’t experience these at baseline. We expected wellbeing and HRQoL to drop from baseline (before the pandemic) to after the first wave of the pandemic in Australia, which it did, but these large differences at baseline were unexpected and alarming. Since the publication of this article, we did a follow-up study where we explored the sociodemographic and health conditions associated with self-rated wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults. There were 663 participants in this study, including the 42 participants in the previous study. We found having financial stability, full-time employment, completion of grade 12, having a partner, and living with others were significantly associated with higher wellbeing among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults. However, a self-reported history of depression, anxiety, other mental health conditions, heart disease, or disability were associated with lower self-rated wellbeing scores. Both these studies show the urgent need to address wellbeing within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Isander population, especially for the sub-groups we identified as a priority (second study: https://bmcresnotes.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13104-021-05794-3).
What significance does NAIDOC Week have for you and this year’s theme Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! ?
While everything this NAIDOC week theme stands for is important to me, the part I feel most connected to is calling out and putting an end to racism by getting up, standing up and showing up. I experienced a lot of racism during my high-school years, not only from other students, but alarmingly from the school administration and my teachers. After countless teachers refusing to teach or help me, calling me a “dumb Aboriginal” who was a waste of their time, I ended up dropping out of high school thinking they must be right. Now, at the age of 40, I have been awarded my PhD and I am on track to have a successful academic career, one which I can be proud of as it is driven by my passion for equity across all parts of life for my community at large. I achieved this by getting up, standing up and showing up to my work and studies over the past 11 years in health research.
Image: Courtesy of Dr Alana Gall