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A selection of stories from our CRANApulse magazine written by remote health professionals or students during their clinical placement
Flying high and delving deep
Dianne Few shares insights into the diverse roles and locations that working as a remote area nurse has to offer.
Flying high and delving deep have all been in a day’s work for Registered Nurse Dianne Few, who counts work in prison health, with asylum seekers, on gaslines and oil rigs, and in remote Australian communities among her varied employment situations.
“My husband and friends think that I do really exciting work,” she said. “I always disagree: I say I do normal work in interesting environments.”
It was while working FIFO for more than two years in the gas pipeline fields in Queensland that Dianne dug deep. “I qualified for under- ground mining work and undertook multiple relief contracts at mines in Queensland,” she said. “The deepest I’ve been underground is 1240m I believe: very dark but very interesting.
“I never thought that as a nurse my uniform would consist of hi-vis, hard hat, steel caps and safety glasses.”
Over the past year, Dianne has worked on gas and oil exploration rigs in Papua New Guinea.
“It’s absolutely amazing: the country, the people, the work places,” she said. “I fly into the country and then take a chopper to the land-based rig where I stay for the entire swing of usually 21daysbutiscangoupto42.
Dianne said that, on a nursing level she found it “very humbling” to realise that the very basic care she can provide is often the best care that the locals have ever had.
“The work provides wonderful and rewarding experiences on a daily basis,” she said.
In addition to local employees, staff come from many countries including Australia, USA, Canada, Philippines, Thailand, UK, France, NZ, Spain and Russia.
Dianne’s clinic is a purposely fitted out shipping container, as is her accommodation.
“There is no radio, TV, Foxtel or any other entertainment comforts,” she said. “We expats survive on sharing movies and TV series on computer hard drives.
“The food is an experience. The availability of pork and rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, has almost seen me eat my last pork.”
Dianne said that she and her back-to-back were the only nurses working in this environment in the country. “We are both Aussie expats who’ve worked on the gas pipelines together in the past so we get on extremely well,” she said. “But we are never on site at the same time. If we are lucky, we might see each other on a very remote airstrip or the local airport when we are coming from and to the site.”
Dianne said the clinic was reputedly the best in the country and they were very proud of that.
“The best part about the job are the interactions with people that I would never have met under other circumstances,” she said.
“Working on a rig has its moments. Many locals don’t like wearing boots or any Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) so daily inspections of hands, feet and socks have become standard to ensure compliance safety and that no one has any injuries they are trying to hide from not wearing appropriate footwear.
“Tropical ulcers are very common amongst the local population and often the patient has been suffering with them for months. When they attend the clinic, the problem can often be totally resolved in 7 – 10 days with medication and daily dressings. The dressings usually consist of Jelonet, Melolite and Hypafix – which are very white in appearance. The locals show off the dressings almost like a badge of honour and seem very proud of them. I had never seen people take such good care of their dressings till then and they will suddenly wear shorts when not on duty so all can see.”
While the rig is being moved, Dianne is currently doing relief work in remote Australian locations, including the Pibara where Dianne worked with the Western Australia County Health Service (WACHS) and had unlimited support from the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).
“For the first time I worked closely with the RFDS and although I always respected what they did and how they did it, I must admit that the respect I have for the organisation and individuals at the coal face, has increased 10-fold,” she said. “I worked in a single nurse post and found support at the end of the phone 24/7 to be amazing. Most contact was via telephone consultation and issues were sorted out extremely well and easily.”
At the end of her secondment, Dianne and the incumbent nurse worked together during a football carnival in the town, as it was an extremely busy time with dislocated shoulders, a broken foot and other injuries and illnesses.
“We had a few people with gastro and were able to finally identify the likely cause to be kangaroo tail stew that someone had brought to town,” she said. “We had to contact the local police and ask them to track it down and dispose of it before we had others come down with gastro too.”
Dianne plans to undertake the CRANAplus Practical Skills Course in Cairns at the end of September. She previously undertook the four- day Emergency Response Training Course at Napa Napa in Port Moresby.
“I have enjoyed every post that I’ve been to and the experiences are so different to working in the city,” she said. “I doubt I could or would return to a metropolitan hospital setting now. My daughter Lauren is an RN (2nd year out) and has seen the variety of roles and jobs I’ve undertaken and this has given her a greater awareness of the wide scope of practice for Nurses.
“Luckily for me I like flying as I have had so many flights in the last couple of years. And I’ve just started flying lessons to get my pilot’s licence.”
“I would also certainly recommend this type of work to anyone wanting to seek any kind of change. At the end of the day though it is the people that make the jobs interesting and enjoyable.”