Translator of knowledge to drive change in community

Dr Yvette Row

Dr Yvette Roe

Mater Institute | 2014-2019 | $1,330,822

Hailing from a big family—and with a big personality to match—Dr Yvette Roe started her career as a bureaucrat before deciding she needed some more skills to help family and community.

‘One of my goals has always been to be an interpreter of knowledges—the idea that I could understand what bureaucracy wanted but also negotiate and become a vessel for community about what their needs were,’ Yvette said.

‘I really wanted to go back to work in the Kimberly to work with family. Making a difference through research would be my contribution.’

Life expectancy is ten years less for Indigenous children born between 2010 and 2012. Indigenous boys’ life expectancy is 69.1 years compared with 79.7 years for non-Indigenous boys and Indigenous girls’ life expectancy is 73.7 years compared with 83.1 for non-Indigenous girls.1

Yvette is a Nijkena Jawuru woman from the West Kimberly region of Western Australia and grew up in Darwin. The eighth child of 11, she was the first person in her family to go to university—majoring in politics and sociology.

‘Part of my personality type has always been inquisitive,’ she explained. ‘One of the things that changed my trajectory—I think I was about eight—when my mother said I could be anything and I believed her. So school, maths and science made sense to me.’

After working in Aboriginal health for 13 years—working for NACCHO, Department of Health, and CEO of Derby Aboriginal Health Service—Yvette decided to do a Masters in Public Health. From there she embarked on a PhD in Public Health at the University of South Australia studying the type of care Indigenous patients received when they presented to hospital with a heart attack.

‘Seeing poverty, poor health and wellbeing, dispossessed people, and experiencing disadvantage—especially in health services—lead to [me] wanting to understand the links with the social determinants of health,’ she explained.

‘It was critical to learn technical expertise in public health, epidemiology and statistical analysis. Then being able to understand and contribute to what communities needs are. We became problem solvers.

‘Research is about identifying problems, addressing needs and priorities in the community. Part of my thinking is to have a whole set of skills that I can offer the community to help address some of those priorities.

‘More importantly, research is also about sharing the solutions with people who help make change,’ she explained.

“Research is about addressing needs and priorities in the community. Part of my thinking is to have a whole set of skills that I can offer the community to help address some of those priorities”

Now a member of the NHMRC Principal Committee Indigenous Caucus (PCIC) and a senior research fellow with the Mater Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Yvette is working on the NHMRC-funded Indigenous Birthing in an Urban Setting (IBUS) study.

‘It’s about telling the stories of mums’ birthing experience—about the barriers they might face whether that be access issues, housing, financial supports, parenting or cultural safety issues and celebrating the journey with mothers,’ she said.

 ‘We can hopefully help reform practices to ensure mothers engage in a safe, best-practice model of maternal care. It’s about tailoring services to where women are at in their birthing processes and what their social support needs are and their clinical needs.

‘We know we can have healthy babies, engaged mothers throughout their journey and that we have set them up for a good start in life,’ she further explained.

As a research fellow, Yvette aims to use mix-methods and Indigenous methodology to conduct better research and refine health services to improve birthing outcomes— threading together the narrative and the clinical outcomes. 

1Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, Australias Health 2014. http://www.aihw.gov.au/australias-health/2014/indigenous-health/