Hayley Baldwin: An opportunity to have a taste of remote and Indigenous Audiology

As an audiologist with twenty years’ experience, most of which were spent in rural, regional or remote Australia, some might say that I have a predisposition for the work I do in Remote Area Health Corps (RAHC) placements, and maybe I do.

Idealised it may be, but there is a kind of romance to the bush: the sun on your skin; seeing kites, brolgas, corellas and numerous other bird species in their native habitats. You also get to spend time in different landscapes: the lush, waterlogged lagoon country of the Top End in the wet season to the dry, red desert west of Alice Springs.

The commute to work in most communities is short and trafficless, and there’s often time in the afternoon or early morning to walk about and get to know the community. The little challenges that arise just add adventure to the placements from dealing with working out how to use a power card or chasing camels off the landing strip in the 4WD ambulance so that the aeroplane can land.

The nature of audiology placements with RAHC means that direct interpersonal contact is intense and richly rewarding. With modern mobile phones, GPS systems and remote access for computers, it is far less common to see the look of absolute panic that I used to see on the faces of fellow professionals when they realised they no longer had a signal – personal and professional support is much easier to access than it used to be.

The people I work with on each placement all immensely add to the experience. This includes the nurses who travel with me and share the effort of developing effective collaboration, the health and education staff who regularly feed into the clinic with suggestions, requests for advice/information and answers to our queries, and the interpreters who are keen to impart knowledge about local language and culture.

But what about the work? After all, that’s what I’m here to do. The assessments we do in audiology placements through RAHC are relatively basic (though not without challenge) and there’s always plenty of them to do. However, in the Indigenous populations of remote Australia, where ear disease is rife, supporting the development of hearing health literacy is paramount.

For the patient and their families that means providing useful and usable information about ear-health management including hygiene, nutrition, effects of smoking, medical management and signs of ear infection, and reducing impacts (social, emotional and communicative) of hearing loss to support well-being. I also learnt about the importance of each other, of family and of maintaining identity in culture. The Indigenous people provide infinite opportunities to broaden my own knowledge and perspectives.

For the primary health staff, it means ensuring that they can accurately identify, treat and document the ear health condition, and that they know when, where and how to refer when advanced management is required. For education workers, it is about ensuring they know about the methods and strategies at their disposal for supporting learning in hearing impaired children. To prioritise, negotiate, organise and, within the two-person (Hearing Health nurse/ENT nurse/Aboriginal Health Practitioner and Audiologist) team, to execute a plan that effectively covers significant aspects of the community hearing health need in the space of a week requires collaboration, self-motivation, adaptability and initiative. There is inevitably a feeling of achievement when you pull it off.

I would, and do, thoroughly recommend a RAHC placement for any Audiologist. Not everyone is drawn to working in the bush, but the opportunity to have a fully-supported taste of remote and Indigenous audiology in a short RAHC placement will bring a whole new understanding of cultural awareness, of collaborative working, of audiology’s role in the context of Primary Health Care. It will also tell the clinician a lot about him/herself personally and professionally. Not to mention exposing them to a different part of this vast and wonderful country.

 

Would you like to share your RAHC experience with other Health Professionals? We are always looking for RAHC Health Professionals to tell us about their experience, by preparing a RAHC story. If you are willing to share your story, please contact your Placement Consultant or email us.

Friday, 17 April 2015