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Living the dream

9 Jul 2015

A love for tiny little towns, isolated islands and the Aussie outback! Nancy has a passion for public health and improving living standards for those in far-flung corners of the world.

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!