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Meet Professor Sabina Knight, 2020 Remote Health Professional of the Year

7 Dec 2020

Pro­fes­sor Sabi­na Knight, Direc­tor of the Cen­tre for Rur­al and Remote Health at James Cook Uni­ver­si­ty, based in Mount Isa, is the 2020 recip­i­ent of the pres­ti­gious Auro­ra Award from CRANAplus, the peak nation­al body for remote health.

Pro­fes­sor Sabi­na Knight, Direc­tor of the Cen­tre for Rur­al and Remote Health at James Cook Uni­ver­si­ty, based in Mount Isa, is the 2020 recip­i­ent of the pres­ti­gious Auro­ra Award, which each year recog­nis­es an indi­vid­ual who has made an out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to remote health.

Sabi­na, who iden­ti­fies first and fore­most as a remote area nurse and health advo­cate, has been con­tribut­ing to CRANA since its incep­tion in 1983, through its growth into CRANAplus in 2008, up to the present day.

It is the great­est hon­our to be recog­nised by your peers,” says Sabina.

It was in 1983 that 130 remote area nurs­es from around Aus­tralia came togeth­er in Alice Springs to put remote health issues on the nation­al health agen­da. Sabi­na was the first CRANA Vice Pres­i­dent, has held the posi­tion of Pres­i­dent sev­er­al times over the years, and has held a vari­ety of oth­er elect­ed roles.

This year, one con­tri­bu­tion unique in Auro­ra Award his­to­ry has been her appoint­ment as the CRANAplus rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the Nation­al COVID-19 Clin­i­cal Evi­dence Task­force. 2020 has also been the year when a cam­paign she ini­ti­at­ed in 2012 for safe­ty stan­dards for quad bike safe­ty has final­ly reaped rewards, with new fed­er­al gov­ern­ment stan­dards requir­ing all quad bikes be fit­ted with crush pro­tec­tion devices at the point of sale com­ing into force next year.

Sabi­na recalls the ear­ly days of CRANA when we lob­bied hard and strong to improve remote health and to improve the capa­bil­i­ty of the RAN work­force. She suc­cess­ful­ly secured grants for the REC course, for the Bush Cri­sis Line (now CRANAplus Bush Sup­port Ser­vices), the Post Grad­u­ate Remote Health Prac­tice Pro­gram
and to devel­op a clin­i­cal pro­ce­dure man­u­al.

We were ahead of our time, work­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with oth­er organ­i­sa­tions. Now that is expect­ed.”

We worked ini­tial­ly with the Col­lege of Sur­geons and the then fledg­ling Col­lege of Emer­gency Physi­cians as well as ACR­RM to devel­op REC. Today’s con­nec­tions include the Cen­tre for Remote Health, Flinders Uni­ver­si­ty in Alice Springs and the Cen­tre for Rur­al and Remote Health, James Cook Uni­ver­si­ty in Mount Isa.”

Over her career, Sabi­na has embraced the role of men­tor with­in and exter­nal to the organisation.

I love sup­port­ing from behind. It is just fab­u­lous­ly excit­ing to watch peo­ple grow
into the roles and into lead­ers and peo­ple of influ­ence. We need bright, young com­mit­ted peo­ple to take the organ­i­sa­tion for­ward to con­tin­ue improv­ing health out­comes – after all that is why we exist – to make a difference.

We will always be advo­cates for our com­mu­ni­ties, fam­i­lies and clients,” says Sabi­na, who points out that the found­ing CRANA phi­los­o­phy is as strong as ever, acknowl­edg­ing the impact of his­to­ry, under­pinned with respect for every individual.

The impor­tance of pro­vid­ing high-qual­i­ty care goes beyond tech­ni­cal skills. Remote health work­ers need to be well-edu­cat­ed, calm and col­le­gial, resilient, will­ing to go the extra mile.”

Team work is an impor­tant ele­ment of remote health care – even for sole prac­ti­tion­ers.”

They need to know when and where to get help – either vir­tu­al­ly or from some­one in
the com­mu­ni­ty or right beside you – and to recog­nise the impor­tance and val­ue of work­ing well with dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines, show­ing respect and tak­ing care for each other.”

Com­ing from a rur­al back­ground, Sabi­na always knew she want­ed to work out­side the cities. She turned to Abo­rig­i­nal health with­in the first year of nursing.

She now works hard to make sure young peo­ple from rur­al and remote towns and com­mu­ni­ties know that a nurs­ing or health career is an option for them and that there are path­ways to get there.

When rur­al kids take up a career in health, I believe it’s a good idea to go to a region­al uni­ver­si­ty in the area where they are going to prac­tice. This pro­vides stu­dents with the skills, not just to work in rur­al and remote areas, but also to live and thrive in them.

We need to make nurs­ing edu­ca­tion acces­si­ble where peo­ple live and where
they want to work. Rur­al kids are the entre­pre­neurs of the future, we must make sure they get a chance to get the skills and qual­i­fi­ca­tions to take it on.

The best and the worst of work­ing in remote areas do, in fact mir­ror each oth­er – clin­i­cal vari­ety, deal­ing with uncer­tain­ty, look­ing after peo­ple in the con­text of their fam­i­ly and place and fac­ing chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions,” she says.

You can find your­self tee­ter­ing on the edge of clin­i­cal prac­tice. But we love it – hav­ing to have clin­i­cal courage. And now we have access to so much knowl­edge and resources to sup­port us.”

We also love the con­nec­tion with com­mu­ni­ty and coun­try and we know that it is a priv­i­lege to be work­ing with­in this place, with these peo­ple – wher­ev­er we are. What we do can and does make a dif­fer­ence – and we know we must strive to get it right.”