Heart Foundation researcher Michelle Bovill works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their health workers to co-develop health information appropriate for their communities.
A Wiradjuri woman, Ms Bovill says it is important to make sure smoking cessation information and tools are developed specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, who are three times more likely to smoke during pregnancy than non-Indigenous Australian pregnant women.
By using yarning circles – an important style of conversation and story-telling used by Indigenous peoples from around the world for centuries to build respectful relationships, and to learn, preserve and pass on cultural knowledge – Ms Bovill was able to build trust with focus group participants and create a culturally safe, collaborative environment.
Her research forms part of an article she has co-authored in the current issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, while her article Wula (Voices) of Aboriginal women on barriers to accepting smoking cessation support during pregnancy was published in Women and Birth.
What area of research to you work in?
My research is conducted in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services. My research focus is maternal smoking, but more specifically in articulating how we can develop culturally responsive supports and interventions to reduce the prevalence of maternal smoking in our communities.
How did you get into research?
I saw a job advertised for a short term Aboriginal Research Assistant at the University of Newcastle, the role was conducting qualitative interviews and I already had experience with qualitative research in my honours and masters degrees, so I applied. I was in a place of transition after the sudden loss of an uncle and was looking for a new direction to help my healing journey.
What are some of the key findings of your research to date?
My research found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who continue to smoke are significantly reducing their cigarette intake during pregnancy and most often this is on their health professionals advice. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women want help from their health professionals to quit smoking but this support is often inconsistent and weak.
How important was funding from the Heart Foundation for your work?
As a mother of three young children the Heart Foundation support was crucial to ensuring I can reduce work hours and focus on completing my PhD in three years. I have also had more time to present my research at important National and International conferences for Tobacco Control and Indigenous Health.
What are you currently researching?
I am in my final year of my PhD researching culturally responsive approaches for the empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in smoking cessation care.
What progress and discoveries have you made?
I have conducted individual yarning with Aboriginal women exploring barriers to accessing and excepting smoking cessation support during pregnancy, developed health education resources in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and communities, piloted an intervention of health provider training in 6 Aboriginal Medical Services in 3 states. I have discovered more needs to be done in the area of maternal smoking cessation care but it is a priority for Closing the Gap in health inequalities and a priority within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women want to quit smoking during pregnancy but need the right support. More program and intervention evaluations are needed to provide quality evidence on how smoking cessation during pregnancy can meaningful and successful in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Do you have a message for Heart Foundation supporters?
Thank you so much for your generous support. Australia needs more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers to address our health inequalities bringing together Indigenous knowledges and voices to the health research space. Through your support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers can engage our communities in research on a new level built on respect, honesty and trust. Respectful and ethical research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities requires significant time, your generous scholarship offers us the ability to do this. Mandaang Guwu (Thank you).