Meet Yorta Yorta woman, Ambulance Victoria paramedic, Michelle Crilly
Paramedic, Michelle Crilly is a member of the Australian Stroke Alliance’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council.
Michelle has been with Ambulance Victoria since 2017, via their Aboriginal Cadetship program. She is a driving force in creating a culturally safe work environment for Aboriginal colleagues and those yet to be recruited. As well, she is determined to ensure ambulance services provide adequate and culturally safe care to every patient. She is a member of the Ambulance Victoria Diversity and Inclusion Council and since 2022 has been the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program Lead, providing advice and a culturally safe lens over policies and procedures.
Reflecting on her impact on Indigenous patients, Michelle says: “I always remember the look on their faces when they realise they have an Aboriginal paramedic helping them. It’s like magic and in an instant, they are more relaxed, calm, and happy to see me.”
Michelle, tell us about your career at Ambulance Victoria and how your role has grown. Are there many Aboriginal paramedics?
I started my career at Ambulance Victoria in 2017 through the Aboriginal Cadetship program. After finishing, I became a graduate paramedic at the Epping Branch. This was one of the hardest years, learning and navigating through this new chapter as an on-road paramedic. Since starting, I have been very active in creating a more culturally safe work environment for myself, my colleagues and future Aboriginal members joining this workforce. Many of my family members had poor health as I was growing up, so I also had involvement in the health care system as a family member. This has made me passionate to ensure the ambulance services provide adequate and culturally safe care to every patient. I joined our Diversity and Inclusion Council to be a voice for my community and provide knowledge and awareness of culturally safe practices. In 2022, Ambulance Victoria announced a new position for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program Lead. I was extremely grateful to be successful in gaining this position in August 2022. Since then, I’ve worked on our first Reconciliation Action Plan, provided advice and a culturally safe lens over policies and procedures.
Have you attended many stroke calls during your time, and have you helped many Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander patients?
During my time on road, I have attended many people experiencing a range of mild to severe stroke symptoms. I haven’t attended any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander patients experiencing a stroke, but I have been to quite a few Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander patients in my area. Each case was different but the one thing I always remember is the look on their faces when they realise they have an Aboriginal paramedic helping them. It’s like magic and in an instant, they are more relaxed, calm, and happy to see me. I believe being in the presence of another community member you feel safe and protected and know that you are going to be looked after. It’s a special bond and I am so glad I can provide this for my community members.
As The Voice features in the daily news headlines, with First Nations people advocating to be heard through the Constitution, can you share with us how your own voice is heard at work and why it is so important?
Since joining Ambulance Victoria, I have been given a safe place to share my voice and to be heard. I was able to do this in the Diversity and Inclusion Council, Reconciliation Working Group and continue to do this in my new role. Our senior leaders recognised the importance of allowing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a safe space to share their knowledge, opinions, and experiences. We cannot make adequate changes and improvements if we are unaware of the issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their best practices.
Michelle, you’re a member of the Australian Stroke Alliance’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council. Tell us what the advisory council does and what it hopes to achieve over the next three years.
The Advisory Council is an alliance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people involved in different aspects of health, who have come together to improve health outcomes for our people who are experiencing a stroke. It covers the prehospital, in hospital and out of hospital experiences of stroke. It’s about bringing together our knowledge and expertise to identify gaps in the health outcomes for our people and to work together to create and guide solutions to improve them. I believe our goal over the next few years is to expand the council and build-up our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders within the health system. Our main goal is to continue to help improve health outcomes of our people.
Darak is becoming well-known as word spreads. What do you see as its most important role?
The Darak team is so important to give guidance, knowledge, and awareness as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to improve the health outcomes of our people. It’s also important to understand the impact culture has on our healing and to embed this in management of our people.
Our new campaign called ‘Ask the Question’ aims to increase the number of doctors, nurses, paramedics and administrators collecting basic patient information, including whether a patient identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Why are health carers so reluctant to ask someone: “Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?” ?
Some health professionals may be reluctant to ‘Ask the Question‘ due to a few factors. They might fear offending a patient and this can be combined with a lack of confidence in how to ask the question in an appropriate way. Secondly, many are unsure of why they are asking this question; they may be unsure what happens to the data when they document this in their paperwork. They can also be unsure of how it can relate to their patient care and unsure of how this can be providing a more culturally safe environment. Finally, many may believe it can cause unconscious bias and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be treated differently.
Why should we ask?
It’s important to ask patients if they identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander to allow us to identify potential vulnerabilities or health-related risk factors associated with culture and ethnicity. It is also essential as a health professional to be aware of different culture traditions of the patient that may impact patient assessment and management. If we are unable to know if a patient is Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, then how can we provide a culturally safe environment?
From a data collection view, this information is essential so our organisations know who we are servicing and why are they assessing our services. We can then identify gaps in health care provided.
What’s the best part of being an Aboriginal woman, living and working in a big city, today?
Being a proud Yorta Yorta woman, I love living in Melbourne, to be able to be a part of my community and provide them with the best care I can provide. I learn so much from a range of different people. I am proud to bring my culture to my workplace and share my knowledge and experiences. In terms of food: sushi on Thursdays and an ice cream on the last shift with my partner each month. Hot tip: if you see ambos at a coffee shop, it usually means they make decent coffee. We know where to find good coffee.