I am living my dream - Karen Wright's Story

Back in the mid-1970s, I had just completed my general nursing and paediatric certificates in the UK when a colleague came to Australia to work with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) for 18 months. When she returned, the stories of her experiences planted a seed in my brain. Never in a million years did I think that 37 years later I would be stabilising a patient to fly to hospital with the RFDS.

My partner and I moved to Australia 10 years ago. We came to NSW to live on a sheep farm. That little seed planted all those years ago had taken root and had started to grow and I decided to make a significant change in my nursing career. After 34 years as a neonatal nurse in both the UK and Australia, I applied for a job with NT Health - Central Australian Remote Health branch.

We arranged farm sitters so that Peter could come too which was great for us both. I had done a lot of research and talked to many people in the months before I went but really still had no idea what the job would entail. I told myself I had nothing to lose and if I didn’t like it then at least I had tried. I subsequently worked in Hermannsburg (Ntaria) for almost two years.

Right from the very start I fell in love with the whole experience; the colours of the Northern Territory, the lovely Indigenous families, the job itself and making new friends. The holistic concept of primary healthcare is a great way to care for people and focusses on prevention of chronic disease. I completed the Graduate Certificate in Remote Health Practice which taught me so much about patient assessment.

It is extremely empowering when a sick person presents to the clinic and then, by a process of assessment and collaboration, the person leaves feeling much better.  Knowing that I have played a huge part in that process is an amazing feeling. Intoxicating…There are many resources I can call upon, CARPA manuals (manuals used in the NT by General Practitioners and Nurses), District Medical Officer, remote midwives, diabetic educators – in fact my list could go on and on.

My time in Ntaria had to end as Peter needed to return home and I had to follow with great sadness. It was around this time that I discovered the Remote Area Health Corps (RAHC).  I could do short-term paid placements in remote Indigenous communities in the NT.

I chose to apply to do placements with RAHC because RAHC was recommended by people I trusted. The RAHC team are great and so supportive in every way.  RAHC has allowed me to continue to live my dream.  Three years on, I have just completed my sixth placement and have another booked already.  I have a casual job at Canberra Hospital when I am at home and then, to fit in with home life, I arrange placements of varying lengths several times a year to go and work in the NT.

For the first time in my 45-year nursing career I feel in charge of my life and I love it.  My preparedness for remote work came from my experience in Ntaria however RAHC’s Professional Development Policy has supported me in attending additional courses to improve upon my skillset required for remote practice.

In recent years RAHC introduced the role of Remote Educators, a group of experienced health professionals who provide support and guidance to help health professionals transition to the remote environment in from a clinical and cultural perspective. Due to my extensive experience working out bush I personally did not need a Remote Educator to be with me but to anybody new to remote practice can feel safe in the knowledge that this option exists and should be encouraged to explore it as the work and environment is very different.

At any stage in the process of applying for a placement, being in the community or even after the placement is complete, the RAHC team are always available to discuss any issues that may arise and are very supportive, which is very reassuring.

All my placements have been very enjoyable. Each presents different challenges and my skills and knowledge base has grown immensely and will continue to do so. On any given day I can be helping someone manage their diabetes, administering immunisations, attending a child’s routine health check, attending a multi-vehicle car accident, arranging an emergency evacuation via RFDS to hospital for an acutely ill client and be invited to an Indigenous cultural event. Another day it might be assisting the trachoma team in attending to mass screening or treatment. Every day is different and hugely rewarding.

If anybody asked me for my advice about remote area nursing my answer would be that I am so glad that I took that huge leap to try something different and have a go. If you don’t have a go you never know what you are missing and RAHC is an excellent way to do it - I felt I had grown so much both as a nurse and as a person. You too could be living a dream just like me.  

Have I planted a seed?

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.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015