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  • Birdsong and desert blooms - remote health is calling

    Author: Haley Williams

Imagine nursing to the sounds of nature, flocks of native birds and the desert in full bloom.

It’s a reality for Lyn Byers, an experienced remote nurse based in Alice Springs, who relishes the opportunities offered by remote health care.

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“Today, I drove for two hours along a dirt road to get to work. It has rained in the desert recently, so the red dirt is covered by fresh greenery and small delicate desert flowers.

“Flocks of brilliant green budgerigars fly up in front of me, and when I stop, I can hear the calls of the zebra finches. The lizards and snakes are sunning themselves on the road – bearded dragons and thorny devils are familiar sights.

“When the rain comes again, the road will turn to mud and be impassable, but in the meantime, the desert is blooming, and the nursing work is challenging and inspiring.”

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Rural health offers health professionals incentives to explore Australia and is vital to the health of vulnerable communities.

So, it’s heartening that this year’s Health of the Nation report by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) shows a strong and growing interest among GPs to work in rural health.

The report found that three in five (59%) GPs in training were interested in rural practice, and two in five (44%) plan to work in rural or a mix of urban and rural locations.

RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements said the trend was promising for the future of rural general practice, despite considerable challenges.

“As a rural GP myself, I know what draws GPs to go rural – it’s a rich and rewarding career, with endless possibilities. You become a valued part of your community, and really get to know your patients.

“The scope of work in rural practice is also truly unique. No one day is the same. You might have to attend to an emergency, a birth, support someone with mental health concerns or a chronic condition,” says Dr Clements.

So, for nurses looking for rural and remote work, how do you find the best opportunities in the bush? 

Nurses venturing outside major cities should look for rural opportunities that hone their skills in hospitals, community and aged care centres, explains Byers.

“You will find highly skilled, versatile and knowledgeable clinician colleagues to work with across all these areas.

“Many clinicians working in rural, remote and very remote Australia work hard to maintain knowledge and skills in areas they seldom have to deal with, for that very reason – cases are rare, and they want to know how to provide best care when someone does present.”

Rural and remote nursing isn’t without its challenges, says Byers, but there’s always support when you need it. 
 
“Some of the challenges of working in rural, remote and very remote Australia are also the positives.

“There may be a lack of privacy in a small town or remote Aboriginal community; however, there can also be enhanced support when something goes wrong, and you need extra hands on deck.

“It can also be hard to find locums for planned leave, but locums are welcomed and valued for the skills and support they provide.”

There’s also the chance to improve and diversify your skillset in nursing.

“The breadth of care across the lifespan can be overwhelming at first, with many new nurses having never worked in areas such as paediatrics or palliative care.

“But there are many opportunities to develop knowledge and skills to enhance your nursing scope of practice. The team might be small, but there are opportunities to develop your skills in telehealth and referrals to support agencies.

“I work in very remote Australia, well outside the major centre of Alice Springs. The people I care for are custodians of the oldest living culture in the world, and they have the most complex medical needs of all Australians.

“Working in very remote Australia requires nurses to be resilient, robust, resourceful and responsive. The very complexity of the population’s health needs, along with the very remote setting, means your nursing skills are honed to the utmost.

“Nursing in very remote Australia is the area of nursing where you can work to the full extent of your scope and be challenged and stretched every day.”

If seeking a rural or remote position, remember the further out you are from a major city, the greater the demand for nurses, advises Byers.

“Nurses provide the bulk of care in very remote Australia, supported by visiting medical and allied health staff.

“Rural and remote Australian locations may have resident medical and allied health staff who are likely to be overworked and resource-poor.

“The demand for nursing skills ranges from generalist to speciality areas.”

If you’re a nurse looking for your first rural position, start by calling the local hospital, says Byers, and ask for the director on Nursing. Or, if you’re interested in remote Australia, search the Internet for healthcare providers’ websites.

“Working in rural and remote Australia before moving to very remote settings will offer a strong foundation for the variety of knowledge and skills needed.”

CRANAplus offers a suite of courses that provide a foundation for the knowledge and skills needed for rural, remote and very remote work, says Byers.

Katherine Isbister, CRANAplus Chief Executive Officer, says opportunities and information are readily available to help nurses plan their transition to remote practice. 

“Nurses who are new to remote need to consider many things that aren’t applicable to their urban colleagues.”

Questions to ask of rural/remote placements

When looking at rural or remote employment opportunities, nurses should consider the following:

  • What skills or qualifications are required?
  • What are the health needs of that community?
  • Is an orientation provided which encompasses cultural safety?
  • Is there an on-call component?
     
“Additionally, there are personal considerations such as access to shops, Internet, professional supports and ability to stay connected with family and friends,” says Isbister.

One last piece of advice, adds Byers, take care of your mental and emotional wellbeing while you’re far from home.

“Equally important is a resilience plan – how to maintain your mental health and wellbeing when working in a strange setting with complex patients.”

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.