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1. Indigenous patients may have a negative attitude to Western medicine.

For a variety of reasons, some Indigenous people mistrust Western medicine. This mistrust can arise from cultural or “introduced religion” influences.

Some Indigenous people are afraid that Western pain medications accelerate the dying process, interfering with the knowledge and secrets that are passed on at this life stage. There is also a lack of knowledge about side effects of common medications, and fears associated with how they are administered, particularly if given intravenously. Another strong fear is that of retribution or ‘payback’ for the Indigenous person administering pain medication near the end of an Indigenous person’s life. Being aware of these worries is important when discussing treatment and medications with your Indigenous patients.

2. Traditional healers are highly regarded. 

The role of a traditional healer within Indigenous culture is highly regarded. Often healers are identified at birth but for some, their talent for healing comes in other ways. Indigenous community members place great faith in traditional healers, with many believing they can cure many ills, be they mental, spiritual or physical. Traditional healers use bush medicine, but also use touch to heal the spirit and mind. Many traditional healers do not treat conditions such as drug addiction or diabetes as these are illnesses resulting from colonisation. They have no Indigenous cultural basis to treat from.

It’s important to understand and accept that patients may see both Western doctors and traditional healers.

3.  Bush medicine has been used by traditional healers for thousands of years.

Bush medicine is used by most traditional healers in the prevention and treatment of a variety of illnesses. It is primarily plant-based, using native barks, food, seeds and leaves as remedies. Used in Aboriginal cultures for thousands of years, most of this lore is passed down through stories and singing or dancing ceremonies. As a result, it can largely remain a mystery to non-Indigenous healthcare professionals. Bush medicine is made and applied in a variety of ways. It can be crushed, heated, boiled, smoked, inhaled and applied to directly to the skin.

4. Traditional healing still has a role today.

Traditional healers and bush medicine have worked successfully for thousands of years. Traditional healers still have a very important role to play in treating Indigenous patients alongside Western doctors. One South Australian four year research project found a number of benefits in providing a ‘holistic two-way health care model’. They provide:

  • a broader view of a patient’s condition
  • a lesser chance of misdiagnosis
  • a better patient experience
  • a greater compliance rate with Western medical treatments


Interested in learning more?

Find out more about Indigenous Health