Robyn Carter: It's a privilege to be a part of helping to improve the health outcomes for the Indigenous Population
I was restless for a new experience after having worked in private practice and public health sector for all of my career. The first of these new experiences was doing two trips with a voluntary organisation working in the Himalayas doing treatments in remote settings using portable equipment.
Upon my return, I still had a thirst for adventure and was introduced to Remote Area Health Corps (RAHC) by a colleague. I have spent some time previously learning other languages and about other cultures through travel, but I had never experienced the culture of Australia’s Indigenous people. It has now been three and a half years and I haven’t looked back.
In 2012, I jumped into the deep end completing six weeks in remote communities in the Katherine Region. The first three weeks were spent with a Dentist working in the community of Kalkarindji and the second three works I worked with a Dental Therapist in the communities of Timber Creek and Yarralin.
My involvement with RAHC has given me the opportunity to experience first-hand life in the NT’s remote Indigenous communities: Their different culture, traditions, languages and beliefs. Attending the Cultural Orientation prior to my first placement was very valuable and built upon the foundation I had developed working in India and in the marine industry.
When facing the challenges unique to working in remote communities, it is important to have an open-mind, resilience and problem-solving capabilities as each placement will bring a different set of challenges – whether it is your first placement, or tenth.
Oral health placements are unique as we often work as a part of a team and more often than not, with other like-minded health professionals from across Australia or members of the permanent workforce in the Northern Territory (NT). This can be a challenge in itself. The ability to adapt to different working styles and personalities is key to making the placement productive but also to make it an enjoyable experience. For some, isolation may be initially confronting however over the past years I’ve used my downtime to catch up with all the things I don’t get to do at home such as practice my ukulele, watch some movies and practice my Spanish.
Another challenge I’ve come across is the variety of oral-health issues which vary from community to community. Each operator (Dentist or Therapist) will look at the problems differently resulting in various outcomes – all of which have the patient’s health as a priority. As a dental team, it’s also a challenge as to what work is completed for each patient as it is unknown whether the patient will return upon the next Dentist/Dental Therapist trip, or whether they may not return for years.
I have expanded my dental knowledge by working with some amazing clinicians who are gracious enough to share their wealth of knowledge and passion for their work. I’ve also forged lifelong friendships with other RAHC health professionals and some of the staff in remote communities, in particular one of the women working at the Galiwinku Clinic who helps bring patients to us – such a big help and vital to allowing us to see as many people as possible during our time in the community.
I look forward to many more unique and wonderful opportunities to continue the great work achieved by the past visiting dental teams and ensure they continue well into the future.
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.