Creating pathways into higher education through supportive learning

Developed as an entry course designed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals who have worked in health and community settings, the Specialist Certificate in Empowering Health in Aboriginal Communities offers students an opportunity to pursue a university qualification based on their work experience. The course introduces students to health-related knowledges from critical social science and Aboriginal cultural perspectives; empowering Aboriginal health professionals in their place of work and allowing students to study and work in their communities.

Chanoa Cooper Headshot

Going from strength to strength: Chanoa Cooper now works as the Communications Manager at Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative in Shepparton, Victoria.

Chanoa Cooper is a proud Moirban, Wiradjuri and Mutthi Mutthi Woman from Shepparton Victoria, and a graduate of the Specialist Certificate in Empowering Health in Aboriginal Communities at The University of Melbourne Department of Rural Health.

Since graduating in 2020, Chanoa has moved into a new role, Managing Communications & Public Relations at Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative.  She has also been selected to be a part of the Jawun Emerging Leaders Program – where 13 participants have been selected from across Australia to travel and learn about Aboriginal communities and their initiatives.

“The Specialist Certificate has actually opened up a lot of different opportunities for me. It really opened my eyes in Aboriginal health,” Chanoa said.

Chanoa was previously working as a Project Officer at Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative based in Shepparton, when her manager approached her with an opportunity for further study.

“I thought, why not take up this rare opportunity where work can support me and take that time off to study? So, I went for it.”

Specialist Certificate in Empowering Health in Aboriginal Communities students  during in-person intensive week at the Shepparton  campus.

The course is a post graduate qualification that is also a pathway into the Master of Public Health at the University of Melbourne. The teaching and learning format allows students to study remotely and remain working in their communities while receiving support and guidance from the course lecturers throughout their studies.

“I was very fortunate to have really amazing lecturers. They created a really safe space for us; there were no silly questions, they were open to everything and anything and provided constructive feedback to us. We were really lucky to have that support.”

Specialist Certificate Cohort

Specialist Certificate 2020 Cohort: (L-R) Gwenda Freeman (Lecturer in Aboriginal Health Education, The University of Melbourne), Colin Mitchell (student), Chanoa Cooper (student), Helen Everist (student), Simone Guinan (student), Raylene Nixon (Lecturer in Rural Aboriginal Health, The University of Melbourne)

In addition to the foundational academic skills, the course looks at the health and history of Aboriginal people, from a strength-based perspective, and considers how Aboriginal and Western knowledge’s can be applied in the field of health. Students also work on a community-based project in their local Aboriginal community.

“Some of the projects we’ve seen from students are an Elders retreat, diabetes support packages, evaluation of a nursing pathway program, a youth mentoring program and a possum skin cloak that was gifted to the local hospital,” University of Melbourne Lecturer in Rural Aboriginal Health Raylene Nixon said.

“Upon completion many students have been offered a new opportunity in their career, or promotion, and really benefit from undertaking the course and the skills that they’ve gained.” Professor Lisa Bourke, Director of the University Department of Rural Health (UDRH) at The University of Melbourne.

“We take a small cohort who get to know each other, who support each other and work together to complete it. It’s a great environment to start your university education,” Lisa said.

UDRH Graduates

University Department of Rural Health (UDRH) Graduation Ceremony to celebrate the achievements of 12 students who completed a postgraduate course in 2020 and 2021.

(L-R back row) Professor Julian Wright, Ms Andreia Marques, Ms Shawana Andrews, Ms Gwenda Freeman, Ms Helen Everist, Dr Karen Ferguson, Professor Dr Marcia Langton AO, Professor Lisa Bourke, Professor Doug Boyle, Professor John Prins

(L-R front row) Dr Raylene Nixon, Ms Chanoa Cooper, Ms Leah Lindrea-Morrison, Ms Tracey Hearn and Dr Sharon Atkinson-Briggs

For more information on the course, watch the video below!

For all  course enquiries including 2023 intake, please contact the Aboriginal Health team:


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Article also appeared  in the Koori Mail on 21 September 2022.