Leona McGrath’s interest in midwifery was piqued at age 16, when she was privileged to witness her niece’s entry into the world. But it wasn’t until much later that she considered it as a career option.
Taking on mature-age study as a single mother, McGrath overcame significant obstacles to become one of the first Aboriginal graduates of the Bachelor of Midwifery in 2009. Her own childbirth experiences were a key motivator. “I believe I would have had a more rewarding experience if there’d been another [Indigenous] face in the clinic, or better still, whilst giving birth,” she shares.
"I hope that my story will encourage other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to believe that if they have the passion, they too can become what they want."
Generations of Indigenous people stand to benefit from her determination. Starting out as a midwife in the Malabar Community Midwifery Practice, a service specifically for Aboriginal women, she became a natural mentor for other Indigenous midwives and students. After just four years of practice, she was actively recruited by NSW Health to lead the ministry’s strategy to address the critical shortfall in numbers of Aboriginal nurses and midwives.
McGrath was born to the role. A passionate advocate for the advancement of midwifery as a career of choice for Aboriginal people, in just over two years she’s made a significant impact, further developing initiatives within NSW Health to increase the Aboriginal nursing and midwifery workforce. And it’s paying off: this year’s pool of applicants for the department’s MidStART training and recruitment program for midwives saw its largest representation of Aboriginal nurses to date.
Further afield, her work is placing Australian midwives on the world stage, a fact recognised by the Australian College of Midwives in selecting McGrath to carry the Australian flag – and for the first time at this forum, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags – at the opening of the International Conference of Midwives Congress last year.
“I hope that my story will encourage other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to believe that if they have the passion, they too can become what they want,” she says.
The Chat with Leona McGrath
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