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First taste of remote nursing: from ICU to Ali Curung
Self-exposed ‘quintessential city slicker’ Charlotte Sumskas, a Critical Care Registered Nurse, recently went bush for a remote clinical placement. These are her thoughts, penned in the midst of her jam-packed experience.
This two-week placement is the first time in my career I’ve ventured outside the Intensive Care facilities within an inner-city tertiary public hospital. So far, it’s been many things… eye opening, tiring, confronting and challenging — but most of all a very positive, exciting and humbling experience.
I’ve had a long buried passion of Rural/Remote nursing. So here I am. I signed up for the TRAN course last year knowing absolutely nothing about Remote Nursing… and I just loved it! I am now half way through the Postgrad Certificate in Remote Health Practice- and this two-week clinical placement is my first ever time working remote.
I find the job of a Remote Area Nurse (RAN) very daunting. The vast and complex role, and the responsibility has felt almost overwhelming at times. Coming from ICU, where there are very senior and experienced doctors and staff around every corner at all times, I suddenly felt very exposed and liable. But I also felt excited. My nursing scope of practice just suddenly opened up… because I couldn’t just get the doctor to review something or simply call the specialist or just handball to someone else. Because there really wasn’t anyone else. It was just us. A small group of nurses all working independently, but together at the same time. It’s wonderful.
I haven’t felt as lonely as I thought I might, I also don’t have as much free time as I thought I would: with shifts running over time and call outs after hours, life is pretty jam packed. My down time is filled with studying, reading, walking, reflection, cooking and having meaningful conversations with my loved ones. It’s actually really lovely to be away and totally on my own for the first time ever.
A RAN is not only a nurse, but a paramedic, GP, pharmacist, counsellor, friend, vet, cleaner and much, much more. The care ranges from antenatal through to elderly patients and palliative care. On my first solo shift, I had an antenatal check, baby vaccinations, complex wound dressings, many chronic disease issues, acute pain, skin infections and child health checks. The RAN really does have to be a jack of all trades.
I have found some days confronting. Especially when it comes to the children. The amount of skin infections and head lice and sores within the community is quite astounding. I hated having to give IM injections to little kids and causing them pain for a problem that is so easily preventable. I tried to remain non-judgmental and instead just attempted to educate and emphasise the importance of washing and cleanliness as much as I could, hoping I would at least get through to someone and make even the smallest difference.
I assisted with one road evacuation and one air evacuation — and it was very impressive. Witnessing how things happen out here, how the logistics are worked out when flying someone out and how much thought has to go into these events. But it operated like a well-oiled machine. Everyone knew their role and just worked together. The air evacuation was especially memorable – something about being in the absolute middle of nowhere, in the dead of the night, standing on a red dust airstrip and watching the patient being whisked off for the specialist treatments that she needed. That point was when I realised just how special it is to be a RAN. It is these dedicated people, working around the clock, in the country’s most remote locations that are the reason these communities have the access to the healthcare that they do. And it was a pretty nice feeling to be a part of it.
I learnt an enormous amount during my two week at Ali Curung. By far the most important thing I learnt has been: that after eight years of nursing…I still have so much more to learn!