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Meet 2021 Aurora Award Winner, Terrie 'Tess' Ivanhoe

2 Dec 2021

Tess Ivanhoe, Nurse Practitioner on the Chronic Disease Program at Nganampa Health Council, discusses how localised care can change health outcomes, the importance of understanding the community you work within, and her late transition to remote care.

For Ter­rie Tess’ Ivan­hoe, this year’s Auro­ra Award win­ner and the Remote and Iso­lat­ed Health Pro­fes­sion­al of the Year, com­mu­ni­ty access to high-qual­i­ty care is everything.

In her role as Nurse Prac­ti­tion­er on the Chron­ic Dis­ease Pro­gram at Nganam­pa Health Coun­cil in north-west South Australia’s APY Lands, she facil­i­tates vis­it­ing spe­cial­ists and doc tors to deliv­er chron­ic dis­ease ser­vices in a coor­di­nat­ed manner.

Over the last 11 years, she’s been busy ensur­ing clients can access high qual­i­ty care where they feel com­fort­able” and in a much time­li­er manner”. 

A teller of sto­ries, Ms Ivan­hoe under­lines the val­ue of local care through sev­er­al anecdotes.

I remem­ber, a patient had under­gone an Echo in Alice Springs,” she tells CRANAplus. They wouldn’t sit still, wouldn’t wait, got up and left. When the patient came to us, he sat down, and we did the test eas­i­ly and got a great pic­ture. [This often hap­pens when] old men are in their own coun­try, in their own clin­ic, with some­body they know stand­ing there hold­ing their hand.”

Recall­ing anoth­er exam­ple, Tess says: We had a lady who had can­cer of lung, a sim­ple cough. The res­pi­ra­to­ry physi­cian said: I’m wor­ried about her Tess. I think we need to get her to have high-res CT down in Ade­laide’. We got her down to Ade­laide in Jan­u­ary, and at the end of the month she had a lobec­to­my that saved her life.

When she came in for her next vis­it in Feb­ru­ary, she was well and fit. That would not have hap­pened if she’d had to trav­el back­wards and for­wards. If we didn’t dis­cov­er that can­cer while it was still in one lobe, we could have had catastrophe.”

A late tran­si­tion to remote

On top of her work on the Chron­ic Dis­ease Pro­gram, Ms Ivan­hoe has co-led Nganampa’s COVID-19 Pan demi c Response across their six large clin­ics and is present­ly involved in research into hepat­ic can­cer, as well as projects on child­hood obe­si­ty and dia­betes mellitus.

Through­out the years, she has also men­tored many upcom­ing pro­fes­sion­als, impart­ing the lessons she’s learned since enter­ing remote prac­tice 20 years ago.

I had been a pret­ty high-tech acute care nurse in emer­gency. I’d run an emer­gency depart­ment for about 10 years,” she says. But I decid­ed that when I was 50, I was going to go casu­al and cruise around. I found myself in Ern­abel­la in Cen­tral Aus­tralia. When the agency asked me to go there, I thought it was just down the road. I didn’t realise it was in Cen­tral Aus­tralia; that I’d have to get on a lit­tle plane to get there.

When I arrived, I realised a whole new world. I’ve nev­er looked back real­ly. I loved it from the minute I got there. But I did realise that even though I thought I was a sharp­shoot­er, I didn’t know any­thing about this environment.

I remem­ber feel­ing, why has no one ever told me about this? That Anan gu peo­ple live in Cen­tral Aus­tralia, talk their own lan­guages, have their own beau­ti­ful cul­ture – I wasn’t taught that in school. I was taught that Cap­tain Cook con­quered Aus­tralia,” she says, dis­ap­point­ed with her child­hood edu­ca­tion. I come from that era.”

It was a very over­whelm­ing moment when I first came out here to see that,” she says. I realised I didn’t know any­thing about car­ing for Indige­nous Aus­tralians. That’s why I had to go back. I enrolled in the Mas­ters of Remote Health and lat­er con­vert­ed to Nurse Prac­ti­tion­er at the Cen­tre for Remote Health to learn more about what I didn’t know, and lat­er, I was invit­ed to go back and teach [at CRH].”

Con­trast with the mainstream

When I first start­ed this job peo­ple said You’ll nev­er get a job in main­stream again. What are you going to do out there, run­ning around?’” Tess con­fides. Well, I’m going to wing it, I said. If it doesn’t work, it’ll just be bad luck. I’ll sort it out.”

I think now I am a bet­ter nurse, per­son­al­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly, than I was in main­stream. Because what I think I’ve learned, and what the Anan­gu peo­ple have taught me, is to see things from the client’s side. We don’t do that enough in the main stream.

Remote area prac­tice teach­es you to seek to under­stand first.”

When asked how impor­tant it is to know the com­mu­ni­ty you work with­in, Tess said: It’s over­whelm­ing­ly vital. You couldn’t do this job prop­er­ly if you didn’t.

Say­ing that,” she con­tin­ues, I don’t need to be everybody’s best friend. Peo­ple don’t need that. They’ve got their own fam­i­lies, their own best friend. What they need is some­one who’s authen­tic, that believes in them, who’s an advo­cate for them, and who’s here to do a pro­fes­sion­al job for them and respect them.”

Hum­ble about her achievements

Ms Ivan­hoe is inclined to play down her achieve­ments, telling CRANAplus I’m a basic kind of nurse.”

Her col­leagues would sug­gest she was much more than that, prais­ing her prodi­gious capac­i­ty for work” and bound­less ener­gy and enthu­si­asm”. They say she’s a great ambas­sador for remote area nurs­ing”, a con­stant inspi­ra­tion for nurs­ing and mid­wifery staff”, a per­son of deep integri­ty” and a dri­ver of change and con­tin­u­ous improve­ment” who has been instru­men­tal in devel­op­ing and main­tain­ing our chron­ic dis­ease programme.”

I’ve been very lucky that peo­ple accept me as their mal­pa (helper friend),” Tess says. To me my proud­est thing is to have pro­vid­ed first-rate care to the best of my abil­i­ty to Anan­gu peo­ple in a pro­fes­sion­al way.”

When you look at the peo­ple like Sabi­na [Knight] and Sue [Lenthall] and oth­er lead­ers and pio­neers of remote health, they did it hard… I’m not sure I’ve led the pro­fes­sion in that way, but I think I can advo­cate for the position.

I advo­cate for RANs to be spe­cial­ists in their area. It is a spe­cial­i­ty. It isn’t a place to sit on your lau­rels with no pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment. You need to pro­vide first-rate care to the peo­ple who are the most mar­gin­alised in the country.”

Tess believes the CRANAplus Awards and sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives are a help­ful com­po­nent of this advocacy.

Any thing that pro motes remote area nurs­ing as a spe­cial­i­ty and as a pro­fes­sion is real­ly impor­tant,” she says. These awards bring the pro­fes­sion to the fore front – not just in the remote area set ting, but the whole of Aus­tralia. If one oth­er nurse decides they want to be a remote area nurse because of our sto­ries, then I think that’s real­ly important.”

Know some­one who deserves to win the Auro­ra Award in 2022? Nom­i­nate them using our Award Nom­i­na­tions page.