Why the grass is greener amongst the Red Dirt

Have you found yourself wondering if your skills and experience could be put to better use and help those who really need it?

You are not alone.

An increasing number of Australian health professionals are looking overseas to utilise their skills to help those who may not have access to the facilities and health services that we find in Australian cities – however there are just as many opportunities to make a difference in Australia in remote Indigenous communities.

According to Philip Roberts, General Manager of the Remote Area Health Corps (RAHC), there has been an increasing number of urban-based health professionals looking to make a difference in closing the gap in Indigenous health outcomes and supporting the permanent workforce in the Northern Territory (NT).  RAHC was established by the Australian  Government as a part of the Stronger Futures program to recruit, orientate and place health professionals to assist in service delivery in remote Indigenous communities in the NT.

“There is a strong emphasis on attracting urban-based health professionals to ensure that the program was assisting the permanent workforce rather thant redistributing it. Over 93 per cent of RAHC’s health professionals come from urban and regional locations with the majority coming from New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland”, said Mr Roberts.

The pool of highly motivated and experienced health professionals continues to grow with over  75 percent of placements undertaken by returning health professionals.  Together, these health professionals have provided the equivalent of 305 years of healthcare service delivery to the Territory.

So what motivates these health professionals to return work in remote Indigenous Australia again and again?

Dr Paul Proimos, a Melbourne-based General Practitioner (GP), believes that working in these remote and challenging locations is “an opportunity for health professionals to use their skills and abilities to the maximum potential”.  Dr Proimos says that when living in urban Australia it is easy to lose track of how we can help people as our concept of suffering is vastly different to the reality of how some of our population live.

However, working in remote communities does not come without its challenges including cultural understanding, communication barriers and treating conditions which you wouldn’t come across in urbanised areas. Dr Proimos experienced this first-hand whilst working on Groote Eylandt, an island off the north-east coast of the NT, 630 km from Darwin.

“In Melbourne, it’s unlikely I’d come across one person as sick as the majority of people that I came into contact with. We treated 10-year-olds who were having heart surgery ” he said.

Whilst daunting at first, there is plenty of support and resources available to help with adjusting to remote living and working in remote Indigenous settings.

Karen Wright, a Registered Nurse (RN) from Canberra, knows that if she was to ever require help, there are many resources that she can call upon including the CARPA manual (a clinical handbook used in the NT by GPs and RNs), District Medical Officers, remote midwives and diabetic educators to name a few.  According to Karen her list of resources “could go on and on.”

There are also remote specific support mechanisms available which help to transition health professionals successfully into working in remote locations by building upon their established skillsets. These include the Bush Support Line (run by CRANAplus) and the Remote Educator program (run by RAHC).

The Bush Support Line is a confidential, free, 24-hour, nationwide telephone service that is staffed by nine registered psychologists who have experience working in remote and rural areas. The service has the capacity for repeat callers to speak with the same psychologist, where possible, with confidentiality guaranteed.

RAHC has extensive support mechanisms for health professionals including free eLearning, cultural and clinical orientation programs and in-person support from the RAHC placement and operational teams. In 2011, RAHC launched the Remote Educator (RE) program. RE support in the clinic setting includes orientation, induction, training and assessment to take the burden off the permanent staff.  This program is designed to assist with the transition into the remote environment both clinically and culturally.  Since the program’s inception, the 14 REs have supported 108 health professionals comprised of registered nurses and general practitioners.

All of these resources help to create a supportive working environment where health professionals can learn new and interesting clinical and cultural information to assist in the delivery of healthcare to those most in need in Australia. For this reason, many health professionals find it an extremely rewarding experience, both on a professional and personal level.

Dr Proimos returned with a “deeper insight into Indigenous health and the fascinating, unique Indigenous culture”. Karen Wright said that she found the experience extremely empowering, especially knowing that she had played a significant role in improving patient outcomes.

“I am so glad I took that leap to try something different and have a go. If you don’t, you never know what you are missing,” she said.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015