Although environmental health conditions in Aboriginal communities are often identified as being below the standards found in the wider community, Aboriginal people have been under represented in the environmental health profession across Australia, and fewer still at a level beyond community worker.
In an effort to develop an Aboriginal workforce with leadership and technical skills to progress environmental health issues, the NSW Health Aboriginal Environmental Health Officer Training Program was developed.
What is the Aboriginal Environmental Health Officer Training Program?
In April 1997, NSW Health (with some initial funding support from the Commonwealth government) launched the training program to employ, educate, train and support Aboriginal people across NSW to qualify as graduate Environmental Health Officers.
The first Aboriginal Trainee Environmental Health Officer graduated in 2001. By 2016 there is a total of 15 graduates and 11 current trainees in the training program.
The training program is a priority of the Aboriginal Environmental Health Unit and is identified in the NSW Aboriginal Health Plan 2013 -2023, and the NSW Health Workforce Strategic Framework 2011-2015.
Trainees are employed full-time by a Public /Population Health Unit (PHU) or Local Government (councils) as a Trainee Environmental Health Officer (EHO) in urban, rural and remote NSW. The Trainee EHOs are given increasing responsibilities over the six year traineeship. Trainees have the opportunity to actively participate in a wide range of environmental health issues and in some areas play a leading role in driving and ensuring the success of a number of public health projects.
A qualified and experienced EHO in each PHU and/or council supervises and guides the workplace training and professional development of the Trainees.
The salary scale for trainees employed by councils varies according to each councils employee agreements.
Trainees employed by PHUs are paid according to scaled pay rates contained in the Health Professional and Medical Salaries (State) Award.
Education and study component
Trainees undertake a six year, Bachelor of Natural Science (Environmental and Health) degree part-time by distance learning through the Western Sydney University (WSU) or other approved course at different universities.
Trainees attend the university campus usually once a semester for on-campus residential workshops (for up to one week).
As a general guide, trainees need to study for a minimum 10 hours per week per subject to view online lectures and complete assessment tasks.
The Badanami Centre for Indigenous Education at WSU has a study and support centre with designated staff to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. The centre offers a range of services and support to guide students through their study, including assistance with university entry, accessing tutoring, university administration and finding accommodation during residential workshops.
Tutoring and study support
During university semester trainees may have up to six hours per subject per week paid study leave, up to a maximum of two days per week.
The training program covers the cost of travel for university and core expenses associated with the trainee's study such as course fees for a full degree course load, text books, technical equipment and graduation costs.
Costs for any repeated or additional subjects other than those required to complete the degree are paid for by the trainee.
Funded tutoring is provided through the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme for two hours per subject per week during university semesters for all trainees in their first year and those who have university approval (approval is based on the need for tutoring). Trainees can make a request to the training program for additional hours of tutoring if required.
Work experience and professional development opportunities
There are a number of skills relevant to the development of the trainees beyond those provided in the degree and a single workplace. To ensure trainees have access to a broad range of work experiences and relevant professional development NSW Health developed the EHO Training Program Competency Guide (Competency Guide) which provides environmental health competencies for trainees to achieve over the six year traineeship.
The development of the training program has coincided with a number of key NSW Government initiatives in Aboriginal environmental health. Of particular relevance has been the Housing for Health program and the NSW Aboriginal Community Water and Sewage Program.
Participation in these and other initiatives, by many trainees and graduates from the training program, has been a significant feature of their work.
Graduates are entitled to full membership and Trainees are entitled to student membership of the Environmental Health Australia the professional body for Environmental Health.
Review of the Aboriginal Environmental Health Officer Training Program
A review of the Aboriginal Environmental Health Officer Training Program was completed in 2009. The review identified Aboriginality had increased from zero to over 17% in the NSW Health environmental health workforce over the life of the program and improved relationships between Public Health Units and Aboriginal Communities (see Summary Report: Review of the NSW Health Aboriginal Environmental Health Officer Training)
The 17 recommendations from the Review are being implemented including an expansion of the training program through funding (50/50) and support partnerships with Local Health Districts and councils for the employment, education and training of Aboriginal Trainee Environmental Health Officers.
Frequently asked questions
What is environmental health?
Environmental health is the interaction between the environment and community health. It looks at the effects of the environment on our health and aims to create and maintain environments which promote good community health.
What do Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) do?
EHOs are responsible for carrying out measures for protecting public health, including administering and enforcing legislation related to environmental health and providing support to minimize health and safety hazards. They are involved in a variety of activities in the office as well as out-and-about in the community. For example:
- respond to enquiries, attend meetings and write reports
- inspect public facilities (food premises, swimming pools, skin penetration premises), investigate public health nuisances (accumulated rubbish, overgrown vegetation) and implementing disease control
- monitor and control water, air, soil and noise pollution
- collect samples for analysis.
For more information about Environmental Health Officers visit:
How often and where are placements offered?
There are around 2 - 3 traineeships offered each year and the location of these depends on the participating council or PHU
Who can apply?
Aboriginal people who:
- have an interest and passion to protect health and prevent disease by improving the environment where people live, work and play
- are school leavers with ATAR required for entry into the university course
- are non-school leavers with TAFE certificate III or similiar
Applicants who can not meet university entry requirements may be considered. They are employed initially for up to six months while completing an university preparation course with TAFE or similiar; after which time they may be offered a full time traineeship.
How to find out about available positions?
- Advertisements are placed on NSW Health and Local Government recruitment websites and in local and Indigenous newspapers.
- Local Aboriginal Land Councils and other Aboriginal agencies are notified by email
- Register your interest with the Aboriginal Environmental Health Unit by emailing your contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 02 93919790 and you will be notified when traineeships are advertised.