Shirley Kusu has turned her personal experience of living with diabetes in the remote Torres Strait into a career helping her community.
A registered nurse who has been working for Queensland Health at the Thursday Island Hospital for the past three years, Ms Kusu has become a diabetes nurse educator after completing her Graduate Certificate of Diabetes Education at James Cook University’s Thursday Island centre.
“My plan was to specialise in diabetes when I graduated as a nurse as I am living with Type 1 diabetes, and Type 2 diabetes is very prevalent in the Torres Strait,” she said.
“Studying diabetes education was also a personal journey for me to find out how best to manage my own diabetes, which has been a struggle while living in a remote community.
“I thought I could be helpful for my people here. Fresh produce is expensive in remote areas and not as readily available, which makes it more difficult to eat the way you should.”
Ms Kusu looks after clients who are admitted to the Thursday Island Hospital by providing support and education to better manage their diabetes when they go home.
She also conducts home visits to engage with clients in the community.
Ms Kusu is being mentored by the Queensland Health Diabetes Educator for the Torres Strait Islands, with the aim of one day taking over that role.
JCU Course Coordinator Bronwyn Davis congratulated Ms Kusu on being one of the first Indigenous people to complete the Graduate Certificate.
“This course will enable Shirley to tackle a huge problem within her own community, as 30 per cent of Torres Strait Islanders either have a diagnosis of diabetes, or don’t know yet that they have it,” Ms Davis said.
“The intergenerational effect of diabetes in Torres Strait Islanders is increasing, with gestational diabetes steadily rising from 13 to 16 per cent of pregnant women.
“We are also seeing Type 2 diabetes occurring at a younger age, in children as young as eight.
“One in four children in the Torres Strait Islands is overweight or obese, consistent with our national stats, and that places them at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
“The best way to tackle this issue is with people like Shirley who can educate people about managing their diabetes from a cultural perspective.”