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Student Story: Lightening the Burden

2 Dec 2021

Ballarat-based nursing student Molly Gladman’s four-week placement in Tennant Creek saw her gain experience in the general ward, midwifery clinic, renal dialysis unit, and GP clinic. Confronted by the inequitable burden of disease faced by Indigenous Australians, she finished placement with a new resolution.

Mol­ly Glad­man (left) and Jessie Mod­ra (right) at Ten­nant Creek Hospital.

The oppor­tu­ni­ty to work in Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Islander health has long been an ambi­tion of mine. I am 26 years old and am cur­rent­ly in my final year of nurs­ing at Aus­tralian Catholic Uni­ver­si­ty in Bal­larat, Victoria. 

I grew up in a small town just out­side of Bal­larat, and although I have spent the major­i­ty of my adult life trav­el­ling and work­ing through­out Aus­tralia and var­i­ous coun­tries over­seas, I still had very lim­it­ed per­son­al expo­sure to Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Islander cul­ture, com­mu­ni­ty and their expe­ri­ences of health.

As my sec­ond year at uni­ver­si­ty came to its con­clu­sion, I began to seek the oppor­tu­ni­ty to under­take a third-year clin­i­cal nurs­ing place­ment in an Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ty in the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry. I dis­cov­ered the Cen­tre for Remote Health (CRH), which is a gov­ern­ment-fund­ed organ­i­sa­tion pro­vid­ing health-relat­ed ter­tiary edu­ca­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties through­out Cen­tral Aus­tralia. I con­tact­ed their team who were incred­i­bly help­ful and will­ing to facil­i­tate a clin­i­cal nurs­ing place­ment oppor­tu­ni­ty on my behalf.

A four-week place­ment in April 2021 was organ­ised at Ten­nant Creek Hos­pi­tal with an addi­tion­al spot fit­ting­ly award­ed to Jessie Mod­ra, a fel­low Bal­larat ACU nurs­ing stu­dent. The two of us set off togeth­er as com­plete strangers to each oth­er, and to Ten­nant Creek.

Our stay was accom­mo­dat­ed by Flinders Uni­ver­si­ty and coor­di­nat­ed by their Ten­nant Creek Place­ment Sup­port Coor­di­na­tor, who gra­cious­ly guid­ed and sup­port­ed us through­out our stay. Jessie was placed in the Emer­gency Depart­ment for four weeks, while I spent three weeks in the 20-bed gen­er­al ward, two days in the Renal Dial­y­sis Unit con­sist­ing of 16 chairs, one day in the Mid­wifery Unit, and two days in the hos­pi­tal-run GP Clinic.

This CRANAplus under­grad­u­ate remote place­ment schol­ar­ship was spon­sored by Aussiewide Transport.

From day one, the inequitable real­i­ties fac­ing Ten­nant Creek’s Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ty were blind­ing­ly evi­dent. From a health per­spec­tive, I was con­front­ed by a stag­ger­ing bur­den of dis­ease – many con­di­tions of which I had nev­er heard of – at gross­ly-dis­pro­por­tion­ate preva­lence rates, which are often on par with some of the poor­est devel­op­ing coun­tries in the world.

This inequitable bur­den of dis­ease and its sub­se­quent dimin­ished qual­i­ty of life stan­dards were par­tic­u­lar­ly evi­dent in the Renal Dial­y­sis Unit, where com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers as young as 40 years old were receiv­ing Haemodialysis.

Despite this, the most con­fronting rev­e­la­tion I took away from this expe­ri­ence was still the dis­em­pow­er­ment I saw with­in the Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ty in Ten­nant Creek. It was this sense I got that their voic­es remained unheard, and that some peo­ple did not seem to realise that they deserved so much more from life than what has been avail­able to them.

This expe­ri­ence was tru­ly life-chang­ing and marks the start­ing point in my career that endeav­ours to help improve Indige­nous health stan­dards. I think it is incred­i­bly impor­tant for con­tin­ued aware­ness to be spread about the real­i­ties our Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Islander com­mu­ni­ties face, pri­mar­i­ly from the voic­es and per­spec­tives of our Indige­nous pop­u­la­tions. Con­tin­ued work place­ment and train­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties avail­able for stu­dents and pro­fes­sion­als across Aus­tralia are great enablers for con­tin­ued pro­gres­sion towards clos­ing the gap.

I thank all those involved in mak­ing this expe­ri­ence a real­i­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly CRANAplus for their finan­cial support.

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