Nancy Weatherford is passionate about remote nursing. Here, she takes us through a typical day as a newly qualified Registered Nurse in the Torres Strait.
It’s a beautiful yet quiet morning in the seaside town of Bamaga on Cape York. As I walk across the yard towards the hospital, there is a scattering of wild horses feeding on the freshly green grass and birds chirping in the trees. I’ve just finished my days off, and handover today involves just a handful of patients for me and the Assistant in Nursing (AIN) to care for. But who knows what the day will bring.
During my first year as a Registered Nurse, I will experience nursing in Bamaga, and also Thursday Island and the Outer Islands, and I will rotate through emergency department, ward and primary health care settings.
Bamaga truly feels separate to the rest of Australia. It is home to approximately 800 people, but the hospital services approximately 2500 people from the five communities on Cape York. The nearest hospital, only 30 kilometres away by ferry on Thursday Island, has only basic services and a 30-bed ward. Alternatively, Cairns Base Hospital is approximately 1600 kilometres away, taking around two hours by plane.
Being remote creates many challenges, including the weather, which can limit retrievals and test the best in their fields. Remote nurses are labelled ‘Generalist Specialists’, treating and advising as they do on such a wide variety of situations. I have quickly discovered that I will have to put into practice all the skills the classroom has taught me over the past three years but, even so, university can not prepare you for this style of nursing. As a new practitioner, I will have to revert to the very basics and begin the process of building an ever-increasing bank of knowledge.
This morning in Bamaga, the medication rounds and showers are completed before the hospital comes alive. Mid morning, the Outpatients Department, run by two doctors and two nurses, opens its doors. Anything from a blister to a cardiac arrest and everything in between could present, without notice. Also about, are visiting midwives conducting routine assessments and today an x‑ray service has arrived from Thursday Island, just for the day.
We assist with visiting specialists, patients with chronic conditions, those who are acutely unwell and those just needing a packet of Panadol. There is no retail pharmacy in these communities, only a nurse-run pharmacy here at Bamaga Hospital, where anything from an over the counter anti histamine to insulin or antibiotics are dispensed.
Whilst treating diabetes, chronic wounds, scabies, rheumatic heart disease and the like, you can see evidence of the Close the Gap program, and other health promotion actions that are being taken to improve health outcomes for Indigenous populations.
One of the reasons I am so passionate about this style of nursing and this part of Australia is that, whilst you are the ward nurse and the outpatients nurse, you’re also the community nurse. This offers a unique relationship with those people you treat.
It’s the end of a busy day: including an admission and a medivac via Royal Flying Doctors Service to Cairns.
A huge bonus for a day’s work in Bamaga is the downtime afterwards. As the team knocks off, boats are launched, a few refreshments chucked in the esky and fishing rods at the ready. Next minute I’m watching a beautiful sunset over the waters of the Torres Strait, with a bunch of my newest friends.
Why wouldn’t you be a remote nurse!…Living the dream!