Victor helping patients cope with hospital

For many people, hospitals are associated with illness, grief and hardship.

Victor Howell
Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Victor Howell

But for Aboriginal Liaison Officer Victor Howell, walking the corridors of Fiona Stanley Hospital (FSH) evokes a sense of great pride.

Victor’s passion for helping others was awakened after a chance conversation with a relative, who mentioned the local District Aboriginal Health Action Group (DAHAG) was looking for members.

Keen to learn more, Victor joined the DAHAG (as it was then known) and before long found himself chairperson of the group.

“I really enjoyed the challenge of being a link between my community and health services,” Victor said.

“It gave me an insight into the challenges faced by the health service in delivering care, as well as the challenges Aboriginal patients face when trying to navigate the system.

“The DAHAG meetings gave us a seat at the table with service providers, enabling us to access information and build mutually beneficial relationships.”

FSH is a long way from the mechanic’s workshop where he started his working life, and Victor credits his career progression to the support he’s received from fellow Aboriginal health workers.

“Through the DAHAG, I met a couple of mentors who really encouraged me to pursue my interest in health more seriously,” he said.

“I decided to complete my primary health care training, which really helped me to understand how the health system operates and how to work within it.

From there, more opportunities opened up including a role as an Aboriginal health professional as part of the Aboriginal Health team working in the prison system, which Victor said was a real eye-opener.

“It was here that I learned how important it is to provide a sense of cultural connection and familiarity for Aboriginal people accessing health care,” he said.

In his current FSH role, Victor helps build trust and communication between Aboriginal patients and clinical staff.

“Some patients I work with might never have seen a doctor in their lives, so they may not recognise or understand what’s happening to them,” Victor said.

“It’s my job to help build a sense of respect and trust to help them feel more comfortable in the healthcare environment.

“When people fully understand what is happening to them, they are much more likely to participate willingly in the process and this makes for better patient outcomes.”

Victor said he had always wanted to give something back to the community but the encouragement of others helped him develop the confidence to put himself forward.

“With their encouragement, I have been able to pursue a meaningful career and to be a role model for others in my community,” he said.

“Knowing I am helping Aboriginal people to get better health outcomes is hugely satisfying.”

View Healthview June edition.