‘I always wanted to become a nurse, so I used to practice on dolls and teddy bears, and sometimes younger siblings, who drew the line at some procedures-like operations’
Photo: Yvonne Cadet-James (centre) surrounded by PCIC members (left to right) Professor Sandra Eades (chair), Ali Drummond, Professor Kelvin Kong, and Dr Yvette Roe holding the Innovate RAP 2016-2018
By NHMRC Indigenous intern Nada Powell
With an extensive background in health spanning some 40 years, Professor Yvonne Cadet-James is a Gugu Badhun woman from North Queensland, who became involved in health and medical research during her nursing career.
While she started as a nurse at just 16, her involvement in research began much later through an unexpected opportunity.
‘I sort of fell into research—someone said to me “Would you like to become involved in this research project?” and I said, “Ok sounds good!”—little did I know.’
Upon entering the academic world, Yvonne had very little experience in research and found herself on a steep learning curve to establish her career path. Additionally, entering academia as a mature-aged person—without the benefit of a traditional pathway into university—meant that there was pressure to obtain higher degree qualifications while carrying a heavy teaching load at the same time.
It was important to Yvonne to balance her own personal responsibilities while trying to keep up with the demands of being an academic. She was able to handle her workload by thinking optimistically and realising she could create a positive change.
‘I could see change and reform happening over a period of time and I made a point of celebrating success rather than focusing on the negative,’ she said.
While working in numerous research fields including empowerment, alcohol, tobacco and cannabis, Yvonne also worked closely with communities to improve overall Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes. She highlights the importance of building research capacity, and delivers research workshops aimed at empowering communities to understand and take charge of their own research agendas.
During Yvonne’s academic career, she has seen vast improvements in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and medical research. More Indigenous people are involved in academia and there are more schemes to encourage Indigenous people to pursue a research career. There is also an increased focus on the translation of research into policy and practice to improve Indigenous health outcomes.
NHMRC’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) aims to enhance relationships, respect, and provide opportunities to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. One of the reconciliation actions was the formation of the Principal Committee Indigenous Caucus (PCIC), which is an advisory committee for NHMRC. Yvonne is currently a member of PCIC as well as NHMRC’s Health Translation Advisory Committee, and has been involved with NHMRC since 2001 as a member of various other committees and review panels. She was also involved in the development of national guidelines focusing on improving Indigenous health outcomes, including the Values and Ethics guidelines, Keeping Research on Track, Road Map and Road Map II.
As a professor at James Cook University, Yvonne is responsible for providing leadership in education and research. She urges inexperienced and new career researchers to take the initiative, plan to take advantage of whatever opportunities may arise, and complete a PhD as soon as possible.
Yvonne also recommends finding an experienced mentor and gaining experience through participation in research teams.
‘Be brazen about approaching research leaders in their discipline to assist in starting and establishing your research career,’ she concludes.