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Cake to Cape

21 Jul 2016

Four medical students from Dundee Scotland recently completed a fortnight’s placement in the remote Aboriginal community of Napranum on Cape York peninsula, 800kms north of Cairns.

It’s a long way from Dundee to the Cape, but for 5th year med­ical stu­dents from Dundee Uni­ver­si­ty Olivia Cur­ran, Sarah Blue, Lau­ren Copeland and Ail­sa Gelling, it was achieved in four steps of sep­a­ra­tion. Thanks to Lauren’s boyfriend’s aunt’s friend who knows Dr Jac­ki Mein, Senior Med­ical Offi­cer with Apunip­i­ma Cape York Health Coun­cil, the four women were able to trav­el from Scot­land to the north of Aus­tralia to achieve their aim to work with Indige­nous people.

Trav­el­ling from win­try Scot­land in Decem­ber, they time spent in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne before head­ing to Apunipima’s Cairns office to under­go a week of induc­tion and to get kit­ted out with the organisation’s dis­tinc­tive orange shirts. 

Lau­ren and Sarah head­ed to Napranum, a small Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ty near the min­ing town of Weipa on Cape York, while Olivia and Ail­sa spent time in the Cairns and Moss­man Gorge. After two weeks the four switched places, com­plet­ing their place­ment in mid-February. 

Dur­ing their time in Cairns, Olivia and Ail­sa worked with a range of teams includ­ing Baby One Pro­gram team – a health work­er-led preg­nan­cy to 1000 days home vis­it­ing pro­gram, attend­ed a Yarn­ing Ses­sion involv­ing nar­ra­tive ther­a­py (they now proud­ly dis­play their water­colour paint­ings in their apart­ment) and assist­ed the elec­tron­ic med­ical record team gath­er and update miss­ing patient data. 

We also spent time try­ing (unsuc­cess­ful­ly) to cre­ate a car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk score spread­sheet, learned about nation­al Key Per­for­mance Indi­ca­tors and spent time at Apunipima’s Moss­man Gorge Pri­ma­ry Health Care Cen­tre,” Olivia said. 

Work­ing in the Cairns office pro­vid­ed the stu­dents with a new appre­ci­a­tion of the admin­is­tra­tive side of health­care and gave them an insight into the com­plex­i­ties sur­round­ing fund­ing and the back­ground work need­ed to sup­port those out in community. 

We’ve been placed in rur­al loca­tions in Scot­land so were aware of some of the dif­fi­cul­ty pro­vid­ing care in such set­tings,” Ail­sa said. 

The Cape is a more extreme ver­sion of this and so the impor­tance of mak­ing sure health­care is real­is­tic in its aims has been made clear to us.” 

The chal­lenges (and rewards) of pro­vid­ing health care in remote loca­tions were made clear to Lau­ren and Sarah as they spent time in Napranum and Weipa. 

Dur­ing their fort­night in Napranum, Lau­ren and Sarah worked on trans­fer­ring patient data into Apunipima’s elec­tron­ic med­ical record (as fifth year stu­dents they were unable to work with clients), giv­ing them an insight into the bur­den of dis­ease with­in the community. 

It has been inter­est­ing to appre­ci­ate the impact of chron­ic dis­ease on these com­mu­ni­ties and the influ­ence of access to healthy food and equal­ly, to alco­hol and cig­a­rettes etc. on these prob­lems,” Sarah said. Issues like the bur­den of type 2 dia­betes, par­tic­u­lar­ly in a younger pop­u­la­tion, has been illu­mi­nat­ing and sur­pris­ing and we think it is the com­pre­hen­sive approach to tack­ling such prob­lems that sets Apunip­i­ma apart. 

It’s been inter­est­ing work­ing in a com­mu­ni­ty where there are three health providers (Apunip­i­ma, Roy­al Fly­ing Doc­tor Ser­vice and Queens­land Health). Clear­ly there is still work to be done on Clos­ing the Gap between Indige­nous and non-Indige­nous Aus­tralians and it would be naïve to think that any sys­tem is per­fect for achiev­ing this,” she added. How­ev­er, we can hon­est­ly say we have had an excel­lent impres­sion of the work cur­rent­ly being done. 

The staff we have met have all been fan­tas­tic and incred­i­bly com­mit­ted to their work which can clear­ly be chal­leng­ing at times. How­ev­er, the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pro­vide care to such a diverse pop­u­la­tion with a unique cul­ture and spir­i­tu­al con­nec­tion, is under­stand­ably very rewarding. 

See­ing the mix of com­mu­ni­ty-based and Fly In — Fly Out work­ers: it’s obvi­ous that com­mu­ni­ty health work­ers are vital for the work of those who fly in and fly out to be mean­ing­ful for the res­i­dents of the community.” 

Along with their work, the women spent time meet­ing locals and vis­i­tors and par­tic­i­pat­ing in com­mu­ni­ty activities. 

We’ve been intro­duced to fish­ing, bowls, squash, swam a lot in the pool, played social net­ball and ran a five km fun run on Aus­tralia Day,’ Lau­ren said. 

We’ve man­aged to meet the doc­tors and med­ical stu­dents work­ing in Weipa who have been great at help­ing enter­tain us and get to places! Our biggest achieve­ment has to be win­ning the triv­ia night at one of the local restaurants.” 

The women have both been inspired by their time in the north and Lau­ren is now seri­ous­ly con­sid­er­ing work­ing in remote health when she graduates. 

We both loved our time in Napranum/​Weipa and would love fur­ther oppor­tu­ni­ties to spend time in Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties,” said Sarah. 

Lau­ren has real plans to return to Aus­tralia and since being in the com­mu­ni­ty, is seri­ous­ly con­sid­er­ing pur­su­ing a post in a rur­al area some­time in the future. The idea of Indige­nous med­i­cine real­ly appeals to me also; I’m just not sure I could cope with the heat and the con­stant appli­ca­tion of sun cream giv­en my gin­ger complexion!”