Innovative thinking and strong work ethic clinch State nursing excellence award

May 15, 2018

Award winner: Dr Caroline Nilson accepts her Excellence in Aboriginal Health award on Saturday evening

A decade collaborating with a community in Pinjarra has earned Murdoch academic chair of nursing Caroline Nilson a State-wide excellence award for her work in Aboriginal health.

Dr Nilson has worked with women and children from the Bindjareb community to develop nutrition and cooking classes, group exercise classes, health ‘yarning’ and a community vegetable garden – all designed to help improve the health outcomes for the entire community.

She was announced as the winner of the Excellence in Aboriginal Health award on Saturday evening at the 2018 Western Australia Nursing and Midwifery Excellence Awards.

The initiatives, implemented over several years, have been widely praised for being culturally respectful and innovative.

Murdoch University’s head of nursing, Associate Professor Catherine Fetherston, said Dr Nilson’s win at the weekend confirmed her position as a leader in her field, whose experience and knowledge was matched by the strength of her commitment to improving health in Indigenous communities.

“Caroline’s innovative thinking, phenomenal work ethic, and significant achievements in promoting Aboriginal health hold her up as an important role model to all nurses,” Professor Fetherston said. “She is a fantastic example to those wishing to work with Aboriginal communities to achieve real change in their health outcomes.

“Caroline has a passion for achieving real change on the ground. Inclusiveness and a positive approach have been a hallmark of her work, and this award is thoroughly deserved.”

Dr Nilson’s involvement in the Bindjareb community started with a cooking class program – the Deadly Koolinga Chef – which she ran in her own time for children aged 11 and 12.

“The program aimed to develop knowledge of shopping for and preparing healthy nutritious meals, which were taken home to the family to eat,” Dr Nilson said.

“The children then passed their knowledge and enthusiasm for what they had learnt and produced onto their families.”

The success of the program prompted the women of the Bindjareb community to ask Dr Nilson to help find ways to address the high prevalence of health issues in their families.

Together they developed the Bindjareb Yorgas Health Program, which put the women front and centre in the development of the group exercise classes, yarning sessions and planning and growing a community vegetable garden.

Dr Nilson said receiving the Excellence in Aboriginal Health award was a career highlight and a wonderful honour.

“It’s an absolute pleasure and a privilege to work with the Bindjareb people,” Dr Nilson said. “This award is as much theirs as it is mine – together we are working towards achieving real and lasting change in the community.”

Dr Nilson was one of 14 WA-based nursing and midwifery personnel recognised for their achievements at the annual gala ball at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre where 500 nurses, midwives and their guests celebrated International Nurses Day.

The Murdoch University-sponsored Leadership Award went to Trulie Pinnegar, Director of Clinical Services at Child and Adolescent Community Health, who led important community child health reforms across WA during 2017.

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