Dr Michelle Bovill
NHMRC Early Career Fellow
Faculty of Health and Medicine
Indigenous health in Indigenous hands
Dr Michelle Bovill is investigating culturally responsive approaches to empower Aboriginal women to quit smoking during pregnancy.
Dr Michelle Bovill has a refreshing, person-centred approach to Indigenous health.
A Wiradjuri woman and NHMRC early-career researcher, Michelle is partnering with Aboriginal communities to place the power in their hands and address an important area to improve Indigenous health: smoking during pregnancy.
“I want to improve the health of our mothers and babies—our future elders—by providing them with more appropriate health supports and services.”
Michelle’s incredibly successful research career is underpinned by her practical understanding of culturally responsive support services, which she gleaned through lived experience and many years in youth work, community development and out-of-home care.
“If we built health supports and services with the guidance of Aboriginal values—including respect, reciprocity and trust—all Australians would receive better support, especially those from vulnerable groups.
“I am excited to bring my communities’ voices to the research space. I want to conduct research in partnership and co-ownership with my people so that it can be meaningful and beneficial to us and our future generations.”
Collaborating for change
Michelle’s research is fuelled by a genuine desire to collaborate with Indigenous communities, listen to people’s experiences and share their stories.
When combined with her astute research mind, it’s no wonder that Michelle received her NHMRC fellowship even before submitting her PhD thesis—a rare and impressive feat. Michelle’s wildly successful PhD study explored healthcare delivery and smoking cessation support for Aboriginal women during pregnancy.
“It was a privilege to work with Aboriginal women to share their voices and experiences in the development of smoking cessation supports that are empowering for them.”
Not many researchers could claim a 100 per cent agreement rate for their first healthcare study.
It’s an especially extraordinary claim when the people involved belong to a group who can experience unique barriers to accessing quality healthcare. Yet Michelle’s research achieved just that—a true testament to her inclusive, community-focused research style.
“I wrote the research, but I don’t see it as mine. It belongs to the women sharing their stories. I feel honoured to be able to raise their voices in this space.”
Michelle’s PhD work informed the highly successful Indigenous Counselling and Nicotine (ICAN) Quit in Pregnancy program, led by the University’s Associate Professor Gillian Gould and Professor Billie Bonevski.
The program supports smoking cessation during pregnancy across six Aboriginal communities in three states. In essence, it examines whether culturally appropriate training helps providers use evidence-based behaviour change techniques to support pregnant women to quit smoking, compared to using their standard model of care.
“I wanted to know if, through empowerment, Aboriginal women can achieve cessation. So we are measuring the growth and empowerment of Aboriginal women through their pregnancy to see if there is any change when they are offered culturally responsive smoking cessation support.
“To date, research in this setting is deficit-focused, reporting the high rates of smoking during pregnancy; however, women are often just doing what their doctors are telling them to do—which is to reduce their smoking. But doctors should be advising quitting if we are only measuring quit rates.”
In 2019, Michelle’s work was recognised for its contribution to community health when she received the nationally prestigious Lowitja Institute Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student Award.
During her PhD, Michelle was continually asked by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to explore more “natural” options to support smoking cessation. The suggestion guided her research into the area of nonpharmacological support options, and led to her most recent NSW-based study, Which Way? Smoking Cessation.
The study will partner with four to five Aboriginal NSW communities to explore what cessation strategies are of interest to Aboriginal women and their health providers. These strategies may include psychotherapy-based strategies such as counselling, use of technologies like phone apps or phone-based counselling, mindfulness, yoga, acupuncture, group therapies or exercise.
Michelle is confident that smoking cessation success rates could be increased with the right supports that are meaningful to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. But to ascertain what works, we must start by talking with women about the types of support they are likely to engage with during pregnancy and beyond.
Which Way? Smoking Cessation is entirely community-led and begins by asking Aboriginal women “which way?”, which is a commonly used phrase in Aboriginal communities and has a broad meaning, used in connection to “what, where and how”. The study privileges Aboriginal women’s voices and experiences to understand which supports are desired and gather appropriate evidence for future services.
“My research is driven by community voices and experiences. It’s also conducted in long-term partnership and co-ownership with Aboriginal communities.
“We (Aboriginal people) have long stated that we have the solutions for our people. I am committed to long-term partnerships to co-develop the right supports to address smoking during pregnancy. I don’t approach communities with an ‘intervention’. I ask communities what they need, then measure and monitor those services.”
Alongside her core research, Michelle continues to be involved in national and international collaborations into Indigenous health research ethics and smoking during pregnancy across population groups.
Michelle is also proud to support emerging Indigenous researchers and students within the University’s Yapug program teaching Community and Research.
“It’s exciting to be supporting the next wave of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and health researchers.
“We need to engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as equal partners. Only then can we deliver health research that is appropriate and meaningful for our communities.”
Dr Michelle Bovill is investigating culturally responsive approaches to empower Aboriginal women to quit smoking during pregnancy.Dr Michelle Bovill has a refreshing, person-centred approach to Indigenous health.A Wiradjuri woman and NHMRC early-career researcher, Michelle is partnering with Aboriginal communities to…
Circling around the burning issues: a cultural approach to an Indigenous health issue
Michelle Bovill is investigating culturally responsive approaches to empower Aboriginal women to quit smoking during pregnancy.
Not many researchers could claim a one hundred percent agreement rate for their first health care study.
It is an especially extraordinary claim when the people involved belong to a group who can experience unique barriers to accessing quality health care.
Wiradjuri woman, PhD candidate, and Heart Foundation Australia Indigenous Scholarship recipient Michelle Bovill has done just that.
Michelle’s wildly successful study, exploring health care delivery to Aboriginal women during pregnancy in smoking cessation support, has informed the ICAN Quit in Pregnancy intervention program, now underway, with plans for further expansion.
Just don’t credit Michelle with the knowledge uncovered during her work.
“My research is about working with Aboriginal women and capturing their voices in the research space to develop interventions that are empowering and supportive for them,” Michelle says.
“It’s not my research, I’m just writing it.”
“This research belongs to the women sharing their stories.”
The truth about compliance
With extensive experience in youth work, community development, and out-of-home care, Michelle has a practical understanding of the power of support services delivered in a culturally responsive, person-centered manner.
Whilst listening to the stories of Aboriginal women, identifying supports, and attempting to uncover barriers to them accessing or accepting smoking cessation support during pregnancy, Michelle made a startling discovery.
“It turns out that a lot of health providers are telling Aboriginal women to reduce smoking in pregnancy, instead of telling them to quit,” Michelle says.
“And these women are reducing smoking, so they are actually following the advice of their health care providers.”
“The messages in medical services in general is that reducing is a good thing,” Michelle explains.
“With this research we are trying to change that line, we do not talk about reducing at all.”
“Ideally, we want to change this message and ensure every Aboriginal woman is given the means and motivation to choose to cease smoking during pregnancy.”
Barriers and supports
Health care providers themselves offered feedback that telling people what to do may impact negatively on rapport building, or that Aboriginal mums ‘just don’t want to talk about quitting’.
With statistics suggesting a large percentage of Aboriginal health care workers themselves smoke, Michelle suspects avoiding feelings of hypocrisy is also a motivator to not broach the topic.
Michelle collaborated with two Aboriginal Medical services, and her circle of pregnant mother advisors, to develop resources and educational material for both Aboriginal health services and the women being offered support by them.
For the pregnant women, the intervention program is interactive, ongoing, and informative.
For health services, a webinar training approach looks to build skills in workers.
“We want to build capacity of health care providers so they feel confident to say it is best to quit and we can make a plan to support you so you are not alone.”
“It can be a difficult subject to deal with, but in the end, health workers just needs the right training to deliver the right message.”
The program is currently being piloted in six Aboriginal Community controlled health services across three states.
It will examine whether culturally-appropriate training helps providers use evidence-based behaviour change techniques to help pregnant women quit, compared to using their standard model of care.
“Within the intervention I am specifically measuring the growth and empowerment of Aboriginal women through their pregnancy, to see if there is any change in growth and empowerment through being offered smoking cessation support,” Michelle says.
“To date, Aboriginal health care research is all deficit focused, when the reality in this case is that they're doing what the doctors are telling them to do, so let’s stop stating the prevalence and collaborate for better support strategies” Michelle says.
“So not only do we need to improve processes to improve outcomes, but we need to correct the narrative as well.”
Thanks to recent funding from the NHMRC, the team will soon roll out the ICAN QUIT program in collaboration with around 30 Aboriginal health care services around the nation.
Building interventions that work
Michelle admits to sometimes being challenged to find what she believes to be the right balance between academic tradition and authenticity in her representation of Aboriginal women’s voices.
Nonetheless, her recent paper “Collective and negotiated design for a clinical trial addressing smoking cessation supports for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers in NSW, SA and Qld - developing a pilot study” was accepted for publication by the Australian Journal of Primary Health with minimal edits.
The paper describes the process of developing an intervention collaboratively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities that evolved from the stories shared by Aboriginal women during her initial study.
Although Michelle’s approach of working with individuals and communities instead of at them seems like common sense in the new age of person centered care, it is a new experience for many participants.
“Some of our communities get a bit shocked,” she notes.
“I have implemented this process where we don't do consultation, we do ongoing conversations, and transparency is everything.”
Michelle believes it is essential for Aboriginal researchers to share information about successfully working in collaboration with Aboriginal people to uphold Aboriginal rights and ethics practice.
“Maintaining a constant back and forth conversation with these mums might be the long way to do it, but it’s the only way that interventions will work.”
“And if we build any intervention with respect, reciprocity, and trust in mind, anyone would be better supported.”
“Particularly anyone in a vulnerable population group who can feel they are not being judged, and that someone is there to genuinely give a damn about them.”
Michelle Bovill is investigating culturally responsive approaches to empower Aboriginal women to quit smoking during pregnancy.
Michelle is a proud Wiradjuri woman who has grown up on Worimi country.
Her PhD in Aboriginal Health addresses ‘Culturally responsive approaches for the empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in smoking cessation care’. Michelle’s work utilises Indigenous methodologies within the health research space to privilege the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to develop culturally responsive interventions to reduce the prevalence of maternal smoking during pregnancy.
Michelle has a BA in Arts and MA in Social Science and has worked across the Hunter New England area as an artist, community development practitioner and social worker.
- Doctor of Philosophy, University of Newcastle
- Bachelor of Arts, University of Newcastle
- Bachelor of Arts (Honours), University of Newcastle
- Graduate Certificate in Social Science, University of Newcastle
- Master of Social Science, University of Newcastle
- Aboriginal Health
- Indigenous Methodologies
- Qualitative Research
- Smoking Cessation
Fields of Research
|111701||Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health||100|
|Title||Organisation / Department|
|NHMRC Early Career Fellow||University of Newcastle
Faculty of Health and Medicine
|Casual Lecturer||University of Newcastle
Centre for English Language and Foundation Studies
For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.
Journal article (14 outputs)
Bovill M, Bar-Zeev Y, Bonevski B, Gruppetta M, Oldmeadow C, Hall A, et al., 'Aboriginal Wingadhan Birrang (woman's journey) of smoking cessation during pregnancy as they participate in the ICAN QUIT in pregnancy pilot step-wedge trial.', Women Birth, (2019)
Gould GS, Bovill M, Pollock L, Bonevski B, Gruppetta M, Atkins L, et al., 'Feasibility and acceptability of Indigenous Counselling and Nicotine (ICAN) QUIT in Pregnancy multicomponent implementation intervention and study design for Australian Indigenous pregnant women: A pilot cluster randomised step-wedge trial.', Addictive behaviors, 90 176-190 (2019) [C1]
Bar-Zeev Y, Bovill M, Bonevski B, Gruppetta M, Oldmeadow C, Palazzi K, et al., 'Improving smoking cessation care in pregnancy at Aboriginal Medical Services: 'ICAN QUIT in Pregnancy' step-wedge cluster randomised study', BMJ OPEN, 9 (2019) [C1]
Bovill M, Chamberlain C, Bar-Zeev Y, Gruppetta M, Gould G, 'Ngu-ng-gi-la-nha (to exchange) knowledge. How is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people s empowerment being upheld and reported in smoking cessation interventions during pregnancy: A systematic review.', Australian Journal of Primary Health, 25 395-401 (2019) [C1]
Gould GS, Stevenson L, Bovill M, Oliva D, Keen J, Dimer L, Gruppetta M, ' Building strength in coming together : a mixed methods study using the arts to explore tobacco smoking with staff working in Indigenous tobacco control', Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 29 293-303 (2018) [C1]
Bovill M, Gruppetta M, Cadet-James Y, Clarke M, Bonevski B, Gould GS, 'Wula (Voices) of Aboriginal women on barriers to accepting smoking cessation support during pregnancy: Findings from a qualitative study', Women and Birth, 31 10-16 (2018) [C1]
© 2017 Australian College of Midwives Aim: To gather Aboriginal women's stories of smoking and becoming pregnant to identify the barriers in accepting smoking cessation suppo... [more]
© 2017 Australian College of Midwives Aim: To gather Aboriginal women's stories of smoking and becoming pregnant to identify the barriers in accepting smoking cessation support during pregnancy. Methods: Qualitative data were collected through use of yarning methodology between August 2015 and January 2016 by an Aboriginal Researcher with experience in social and community services. A short on-line survey was used to collect quantitative data. Interviews only recorded the therapeutic yarning process, which ranged from 9 to 45 min duration, averaging 30 min. Audio-recorded interviews were transcribed and independently coded. A general inductive analysis was used to determine emergent themes. Results: Twenty Aboriginal women between 17¿38 years of age, who were pregnant or recently given birth, living in the Hunter New England (HNE) area took part. Eleven women were still smoking; nine had quit. Most were highly aware of the implications of smoking for their babies. Major themes identified for accepting support were: ambivalence towards a need for support, health professional advice, reduction in smoking, and attitudes to Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). Women reported being advised to cut down, rather than to quit; reducing consumption may be a barrier to accepting NRT. Women recommended enhanced clinical support and Aboriginal community engagement in cessation care. Discussion/conclusions: Aboriginal women in the HNE area reported quitting or reducing their cigarette intake during pregnancy. Health Professionals working with Aboriginal women during pregnancy should give consistent messages to quit smoking completely, and offer increased, ongoing and extensive smoking cessation support to Aboriginal mothers. Clinical practices could partner with Aboriginal communities to support the delivery of smoking cessation services.
Bovill M, Gruppetta M, Clarke K, Nicholls P, O'Mara P, Bonevski B, Reath J, 'Giri-nya-la-nha (Talk Together) to explore acceptability of targeted smoking cessation resources with Australian Aboriginal women', Public Health, (2018)
Bovill M, Bar Zeev Y, Gruppetta M, O'Mara P, Cowling B, Gould GS, 'Collective and negotiated design for a clinical trial addressing
smoking cessation supports for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
mothers in NSW, SA and Qld developing a pilot study', Australian Journal of Primary Health, 23 497-503 (2017) [C1]
Gould GS, Bovill M, Chiu S, Bonevski B, Oldmeadow C, 'Exploring an adapted Risk Behaviour Diagnosis Scale among Indigenous Australian women who had experiences of smoking during pregnancy: a cross-sectional survey in regional New South Wales, Australia', BMJ OPEN, 7 (2017) [C1]
Bovill M, 'Winhanga-duri-nya (To reflect)', Medical Journal of Australia, 207 472-473.e1 (2017)
Gould GS, Bar-Zeev Y, Bovill M, Atkins L, Gruppetta M, Clarke MJ, Bonevski B, 'Designing an implementation intervention with the Behaviour Change Wheel for health provider smoking cessation care for Australian Indigenous pregnant women.', Implementation science : IS, 12 (2017) [C1]
Gould GS, Bovill M, Clarke MJ, Gruppetta M, Cadet-James Y, Bonevski B, 'Chronological narratives from smoking initiation through to pregnancy of Indigenous Australian women: A qualitative study', Midwifery, 52 27-33 (2017) [C1]
© 2017 Objective One in two Indigenous Australian pregnant women smoke, yet little is known about their trajectory of smoking. This study aimed to explore Aboriginal women's ... [more]
© 2017 Objective One in two Indigenous Australian pregnant women smoke, yet little is known about their trajectory of smoking. This study aimed to explore Aboriginal women's narratives from starting smoking through to pregnancy. Methods A female Aboriginal Researcher conducted individual face-to-face interviews with 20 Aboriginal women from New South Wales, Australia. Recruitment, through Aboriginal services and community networks, continued until saturation was reached. Audio-recorded transcripts were independently open coded by two researchers, inductively analysed and reported using a three-dimensional structure of looking backwards, forwards, inwards, outwards and a sense of place, to elucidate the chronology of events, life stages, characters, environments, and turning points of the stories. Results A chronology emerged from smoking initiation in childhood, coming of age, becoming pregnant, through to attempts at quitting, and relapse post-partum. Several new themes emerged: the role mothers play in women's smoking and quitting; the contribution of nausea to spontaneous quitting; depression as a barrier to quitting; and the hopes of women for their own and their children's future. The epiphany of pregnancy was a key turning point for many ¿ including the interplay of successive pregnancies; and the intensity of expressed regret. Conclusions Aboriginal women report multiple influences in the progression of early smoking to pregnancy and beyond. Potential opportunities to intervene include: a) childhood, coming of age, pregnancy, post-natal, in-between births; b) key influencers; c) environments, and d) targeting concurrent substance use. Morning sickness appears to be a natural deterrent to continued smoking. Depression, and its relationship to smoking and quitting in Australian Indigenous pregnant women, requires further research.
Bar-Zeev Y, Bovill M, Bonevski B, Gruppetta M, Reath J, Gould GS, 'Assessing and Validating an Educational Resource Package for Health Professionals to Improve Smoking Cessation Care in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Pregnant Women.', International journal of environmental research and public health, 14 (2017) [C1]
|Show 11 more journal articles|
Conference (26 outputs)
Rahman T, Eftekhari P, Bovill M, Baker A, Gould G, 'Systematic review of barriers and enablers to smoking cessation among Indigenous Australian women in pregnancy and postpartum employing the socioecological model', Oslo (2019)
Bar-Zeev Y, Bovill M, Bonevski B, Gruppetta M, Oldmeadow C, Palazzi K, et al., 'Improving Nicotine Replacement Therapy Prescription Rates during Pregnancy: Results from the ICAN QUIT in Pregnancy Intervention', Oslo (2019)
Gould G, Bovill M, Bonevski B, Gruppetta M, Atkins L, Bar-Zeev Y, 'ICAN Quit in Pregnancy A multi-component approach to smoking cessation care for Indigenous Australian pregnant women.', ICAN Quit in Pregnancy A multi-component approach to smoking cessation care for Indigenous Australian pregnant women., San Francisco (2019)
Bovill M, Bar Zeev Y, Gruppetta M, O'Mara P, Gould G, 'COLLECTIVE AND NEGOTIATED DESIGN FOR A CLINICAL TRIAL ADDRESSING SMOKING CESSATION SUPPORTS FOR ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER MOTHERS IN NSW, SA, AND QLD - DEVELOPING A PILOT STUDY', ASIA-PACIFIC JOURNAL OF CLINICAL ONCOLOGY (2016)
Bar Zeev Y, Bovill M, Bonevski B, Gould G, 'INDIGENOUS COUNSELLING AND NICOTINE (ICAN) QUIT IN PREGNANCY - DEVELOPING AN EVIDENCE-BASED INTERVENTION FOR SMOKING CESSATION FOR INDIGENOUS PREGNANT WOMEN', ASIA-PACIFIC JOURNAL OF CLINICAL ONCOLOGY (2015) [E3]
|Show 23 more conferences|
Other (2 outputs)
Bar-Zeev Y, Bovill M, Gould G, 'SISTAQUIT® (Supporting Indigenous Smokers To Assist Quitting) Educational Resource Package a toolkit to aid the management of smoking with pregnant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.', . Callaghan: University of Newcastle (2018)
Bar-Zeev Y, Bovill M, Gould G, 'Indigenous Counselling And Nicotine (ICAN) Quit in Pregnancy Educational Resource Package. University of Newcastle: Callaghan.', . Callaghan: University of Newcastle (2016)
Grants and Funding
|Number of grants||2|
Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.
20192 grants / $358,192
Non-pharmacological strategies for smoking cessation during pregnancy with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women$338,192
Funding body: NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council)
|Funding body||NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council)|
|Project Team||Doctor Michelle Bovill|
|Scheme||Early Career Fellowships|
|Type Of Funding||Aust Competitive - Commonwealth|
Step towards incorporating smoking relapse prevention in smoking cessation care for Indigenous Australian women: Detecting predictors and drivers of relapse in the women of reproductive age and explor$20,000
Funding body: Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP)
|Funding body||Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP)|
|Project Team||Associate Professor Gillian Gould, Doctor Michelle Bovill, Ms Tabassum Rahman, Professor Amanda Baker, Ms Tabassum Rahman|
|Scheme||BOQ Specialist Research Grant|
|Type Of Funding||C1700 - Aust Competitive - Other|
Number of supervisions
|Commenced||Level of Study||Research Title||Program||Supervisor Type|
|2019||PhD||Improving Smoking Cessation Service Uptake among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Pregnant Women: Developing Strategies Among Obstetricians and Other Health Professionals||PhD (Medicine), Faculty of Health and Medicine, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2018||PhD||Investigating Cessation of Smoking During Pregnancy in Indigenous Australian Women, Drivers of Relapse and Access to Services that Might Help Continue Cessation||PhD (Public Health & BehavSci), Faculty of Health and Medicine, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
ICAN QUIT in Pregnancy 2015 - 2017
October 30, 2019
August 13, 2018
December 5, 2016