Nurse Julie Westaway, based in Toowoomba, QLD, recently completed a four-week placement in the Northern Territory for RAHC.
Julie’s initial interest in undertaking a RAHC placement stemmed from growing up in Northern Queensland around Indigenous communities. “I’ve just always been quite fascinated by their culture,” Julie said. Her placement in the Indigenous community of Elcho Island, NT ended up providing far more than just an interesting experience.
“This was not just a caretaker role – it was more than that,” she said. “This was about coming in and trying to improve the quality of people’s lives.”
Julie feels the program was hugely beneficial and allowed her to use, and expand upon, her existing skills.
“The placement was an excellent opportunity for me to get back into a role similar to one I held previously, as a maternal nurse and a midwife. I drew on a much wider skill-set than I would normally use.”
She says the position also gave her perspective once she returned to her permanent job, as well as having a marked effect on her skills in coping during stressful situations.
“In the city you have a back-up call, which you don’t have in the bush. You can’t reach out for a piece of equipment – you have to improvise and make sure you can relax with the responsibility.”
However, Julie says the training provided by RAHC helped immensely.
“RAHC’s cultural training was very useful,” she said. “It’s important to understand the cultural significance and differences so you’re not stepping on toes in the bush – especially when it comes to the relationships between brothers and uncles, and mothers and children.
“You need to be aware that when a baby comes in it may not be accompanied by the birth mother, but the woman may still call herself the mother.”
As Julie worked to make a difference by helping improve access to services and health outcomes for Indigenous Australians, she says the hardest – and most rewarding – part about the position was dealing with the quantity and degree of health problems.
“You do see more [health problems] in remote rural environments than you would in the city. When you do patient assessments you’re looking at a totally different set of complaints and conditions. Common problems are rheumatic heart conditions, septic arthritis and septic ears."
Julie plans to return to Elcho Island twice a year, and encourages health managers to release their health workers for short periods too.
“They’ll find that their employees’ knowledge and ability to cope in stressful situations will increase.
“It’s about stepping out of your usual role and challenging yourself. This is a wonderful experience, professionally and personally, and allows for growth in both areas. It’s a two-way street.
“Respect the knowledge and understanding the Indigenous health workers have here, bring your own experience along, and it could be a beautiful mix.
“I’d definitely recommend it to colleagues. I’m coming back in August.”
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.