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Student Story: From Katherine to Port Augusta

2 Dec 2021

Kelly Ramsdale recollects the memorable moments from her professional experience placements – such as learning traditional weaving and the removal of a fist-sized carbuncle – and highlights the importance of listening to and engaging with communities rather than relying on ‘statistics or boardroom publications’.

When I embarked on my new study jour­ney as a mature aged stu­dent, I expect­ed to expand my knowl­edge, learn new skills, and devel­op my career poten­tial. But nev­er did I think that my Bach­e­lor of Nurs­ing degree would intro­duce me to the world of rur­al and remote nurs­ing, includ­ing Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Islander health, nor that it would allow me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to gain hands-on, real-life experience. 

My mum has always said to me: If you find a job you love, you will nev­er work a day in your life.” I think I have found a career which com­bines work with pas­sion, so I nev­er have to work again (in the­o­ry)! With two rur­al Pro­fes­sion­al Expe­ri­ence Place­ments now com­plet­ed, I have caught the bug and am now plan­ning my tran­si­tion in rur­al nurs­ing once I com­plete my stud­ies in 2021.

Through Flinders Uni­ver­si­ty North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry pro­gram, I was able to under­take four weeks place­ment in Kather­ine and Dis­tricts Hos­pi­tal. In the Cross­roads of the North’, the FNT team are amaz­ing­ly sup­port­ive and gen­uine­ly knowl­edge­able about rur­al and remote health, the inter­face between First Peo­ples com­mu­ni­ties and the health care services.

I start­ed my place­ment with an Ori­en­ta­tion to the Kather­ine Region Cul­tures and Con­text train­ing, where I learned about the Jawoyn and Dagomen peo­ple who first inhab­it­ed the area, to the many lan­guages of the region (there’s 27!) and also about the many intri­cate dynam­ics in Abo­rig­i­nal fam­i­lies, giv­ing me a much deep­er under­stand­ing of the patients I would be treat­ing in the hos­pi­tal setting.

This real­ly helped me as I was soon to learn that we nurse dif­fer­ent­ly in a First Peo­ples com­mu­ni­ty, some­times per­form­ing vitals under a tree out­side, or speak­ing with a patient’s moth­er or father, aunt or uncle rather than direct­ly to the patient. This approach embraces cul­tur­al safe­ty’. What you read about in a text­book is only ever one facet of the expe­ri­ence. I soon learned that in order to be a RAN work­ing in Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties, I will need to learn a lot more than just clin­i­cal skills.

While work­ing in the adult med­ical-sur­gi­cal ward, I was amazed at how many com­mon con­di­tions had exac­er­bat­ed and left peo­ple requir­ing hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tion, such as skin and wound infec­tions, T2DM, and car­diac con­di­tions includ­ing Rheumat­ic Heart Disease.

Among the incred­i­ble expe­ri­ences dur­ing my time here, was the oppor­tu­ni­ty to attend a sur­gi­cal debride­ment of a fist-sized car­bun­cle from a young man’s back – which was not the biggest the sur­geon had seen!

Away from the clin­i­cal floor, the uni­ver­si­ty organ­ised a spe­cial trip to an Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ty, Djilpin (South of Kather­ine, near Barun­ga) to meet with locals and engage in the art of weav­ing, a spe­cial expe­ri­ence reserved only for women.

Despite the lan­guage bar­ri­er, I real­ly enjoyed sit­ting down on the ground with the women, who explained how they gath­ered the Pan­danus leaves and stripped and dyed them many months before they would start the weav­ing sessions.

These weav­ing ses­sions were a way of shar­ing knowl­edge, pass­ing it down through the gen­er­a­tions as the women sat togeth­er to cre­ate bas­kets, rugs, tools, ear­rings and more. They were able to pro­duce small bas­kets in the time it took me to cre­ate an odd-shaped, mini-coast­er sized weave!

This showed me just how much time and effort goes into some of the hand-made crafts that you see for sale at the many local mar­kets.
Kather­ine was not just about clin­i­cal skills devel­op­ment, but was also a chance for me to expe­ri­ence life with­in a com­mu­ni­ty where Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Islander and West­ern cul­tures intertwine.

Two very dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences can occur when this hap­pens; this was either going to make or break’ my pas­sion. Safe to say it made it!

My sec­ond PEP was a world away in the Emer­gency Depart­ment of Pt Augus­ta Hos­pi­tal where no two days were ever the same. We went from clean­ing and restock­ing IV and resus trol­leys one minute, to all hands-on deck Pri­or­i­ty One’ life-or-death sit­u­a­tions the next.

Kel­ly pos­es with stat­ue of late May­or Joy Baluch AM, Pt Augusta.

A high­light of my place­ment was work­ing close­ly with the Roy­al Fly­ing Doc­tor Ser­vice and Med­Star as patients were retrieved from remote areas with lit­tle to no trau­ma capac­i­ty or trans­ferred to big city hos­pi­tals for spe­cialised treat­ments. Here, I was again prac­tis­ing cul­tur­al safe­ty but with more volatile work­ing capac­i­ty with­in a busy ED and I saw lots of men­tal health, drug and alco­hol pre­sen­ta­tions and more than one Code Black’ secu­ri­ty breach.

Stu­dent accom­mo­da­tion look­ing across the Gulf.

Although at times con­fronting, this did lit­tle to damp­en my spir­its, and among the chaos I was able to share some mem­o­rable moments. One that I will cher­ish was treat­ing an elder­ly woman, who began teach­ing me Pit­jan­t­jat­jara and Barn­gar­la lan­guage, and who shared with me the his­to­ry of her fam­i­ly and even invit­ed me to come learn more lan­guage skills at her home. I was wel­come anytime!

Know­ing that I want­ed to work in Indige­nous and rur­al health care is one thing, but I now appre­ci­ate the impor­tance of get­ting out into the com­mu­ni­ty and liv­ing what clients live, hear­ing their sto­ries and his­to­ries, and find­ing out how I can be help­ful based on what they’re telling me, not the sta­tis­tics or board­room publications.

Being sup­port­ed by CRANAplus and FNT to fol­low my dreams has been amaz­ing, and I would urge any­one think­ing about a rur­al place­ment to explore CRANAplus’ oppor­tu­ni­ties and just give it a go!

This CRANAplus under­grad­u­ate remote place­ment schol­ar­ship was spon­sored by Zeitz Enterprises.

Apply for an Under­grad­u­ate Remote Place­ment Schol­ar­ship for finan­cial sup­port dur­ing your clin­i­cal placement.