‘Now More Than Ever’: How our Aboriginal Health Liaison Manager strives for health equity and cultural safety


Nicole Watt is the Manager of St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s (SVHM) Aboriginal Health Liaison Service (AHLO).

She recently won the Emerging Leader accolade at SVHM’s Nursing Excellence Awards.

In her award nomination, her team described her as “exemplifying how excellence in nursing can reshape, reform, renew and lead models of care consistent with the vision of Cultural Safety.”

“That is, that all First Nations people have a positive experience at St Vincent’s.”

This Reconciliation Week, which is themed ‘Now More Than Ever’, we’re highlighting the impact Nicole’s work has had on our health service.

Health equity and cultural safety

Nicole became the AHLO Manager at St Vincent’s in 2021 after more than 20 years working in nursing.

“The service ensures SVHM provides an equitable service to all First Nations patients,” she said.

“My experience over 25 years as a nurse has been important for this role. My staff can ask clinical and cultural questions and I have the capacity to answer both.”

Within the focus of the AHLO service – of ensuring health equity for First Nations people – Nicole has worked on “too many projects to list”.

But her proudest is her work with the First Nations Health Equity Working Group on improving cultural safety in the Emergency Department (ED).

"Our work resulted in three different areas of cultural safety improvement in the ED,” she said.

The project introduced ‘Minimum triage’, which automatically triages First Nations patients at a minimum of category three to ensure timely and prioritised care.

It created a more welcoming environment for First Nations people in the ED by making the space more open and installing First Nations artworks.

The working group also resulted in identification of all First Nations patients with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags on SVHM’s patient administration system.

“It was a collaborative effort, and the group managed to deliver the initiatives during the peak of COVID,” Nicole said.

“Wait times have halved, First Nations patients have earlier access to AHLO’s and we can identify our patients more easily.

“The ED has been a great partner, and I am thankful for the changes that we have implemented together. “

The working group won the Al Spilman Cultural Safety Award in 2023.

Other projects that Nicole has helped to drive include:

- a Healthcare for the Homeless mobile vaccination van during Covid;

- a First Nations Nurse Outreach collaboration with Victorian Virtual Emergency Department and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS);

- and the introduction of a First Nations Identified Mental Health Nurse for our Social and Emotional Wellbeing program to ensure there is Aboriginal representation on the team. 

She was also crucial to finalising SVHM’s 2023 Memorandum of Understanding with VAHS.

Mentorship and working for community

In addition to the work she has put into specific projects and outcomes, Nicole has improved our health service through her mentorship of colleagues and care for her community.

“Through her mentorship and guidance, Nicole creates an environment where everyone is encouraged to pursue continuous learning and improvement,” her team wrote in her award submission.

“As an Aboriginal woman, she works and lives within the First Nations community.”

Nicole said she was proud of her commitment to health equity and the changes she had implemented at SVHM for her community.

“I am also proud of my resilience,” she said.

“It is hard to explain the unique challenges I have faced to those outside the First Nations Community, but I have had plenty, and I just keep getting back up again. “