Armidale Hospital's designer range of Indigenous shirts might not be manufactured by The Gap. They're even better: they're helping to 'Close the Gap' between Indigenous and other Australians' life expectancies - one garment at a time.
The hospital "scrubs", acute pain manager Darlene Saladine and clinical support officer Cassandra Robertson said, show Indigenous patients that the hospital is a safe place to come.
"Often Aboriginal patients aren't that keen to talk to you because they think you're judging them or there are some cultural differences," Darlene said.
"When you wear the shirts, it makes a statement that I respect your culture; I'm trying to support you in your health journey."
The shirts bear designs from paintings by local Indigenous artists Bevan Quinlin and Brian Irving: healing plants, spiral symbols for healing places, footsteps representing the Aboriginal patient's journey in health, and echidnas (the totem for Armidale).
On the sleeves are handprints of Aboriginal cadet Marly Smith, Irving's niece, filled with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags. The shirts are made by Bundarra Aboriginal Clothing in Brisbane.
"It opens up a level of comfort for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community to be able to approach you and ask questions," Cassandra said.
The initiative began last year when Darlene and a colleague wore Indigenous shirts for NAIDOC Week.
"While wearing these shirts, we noticed a significant difference in the rapport with Indigenous patients and visitors," Darlene said. "It also uplifts the culture of unity within our staff, as more colleagues wish to demonstrate their support by purchasing 'Bundarra' shirts to wear."
More than 130 staff members have already bought the shirts; some at reception or in emergency wear theirs every day.
"They find it makes a huge difference when patients come in," Darlene said. "In fact, patients come to speak to them rather than the other staff."
Darlene said she can tailor pain relief much better because patients are more willing to talk to her. One man, Duane, began talking to Darlene about the shirt; he felt comfortable to openly discuss about his health issues and seek her out to discuss his progress and future plans.
Armidale Rural Referral Hospital also offers Aboriginal targeted positions at the hospital; a Mums and Bubs group providing natal care to expectant mothers; and Aboriginal liaison officers. All staff also attend Aboriginal cultural respect training.