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Occupational therapy in the Red Centre

30 Aug 2021

Jordyn Iovino reflects on her clinical placement with Desert Therapy in Alice Springs and discusses how she has grown as a professional through increased cultural awareness.

Pri­or to begin­ning my Mas­ters of Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­py degree, I researched the vast expe­ri­ences that Flinders Uni­ver­si­ty offered through their place­ments. When I heard about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of being able to per­form a place­ment in the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry with Desert Ther­a­py, I imme­di­ate­ly signed my name up and con­sis­tent­ly approached my top­ic coor­di­na­tors to ask them to con­sid­er me for this placement.

Hav­ing grown up in the River­land, I under­stood the ways of rur­al com­mu­ni­ty life and the close rela­tion­ships which tend to form in these small­er towns. After mov­ing to Ade­laide in my late teens, I knew that I want­ed to return to a rur­al place­ment and be able to pro­vide much-need­ed health­care to rur­al and remote communities.

For­tu­nate­ly enough, I was offered the place­ment with Desert Ther­a­py in Alice Springs. This clin­ic works with those fund­ed by the NDIS scheme or My Aged Care, from pae­di­atric through to aged care clients. The well-equipped, high­ly knowl­edge­able and friend­ly team are made up of a range of occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pists, speech pathol­o­gists and physiotherapists.

The mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary team was high­ly sup­port­ive and encour­ag­ing towards fur­ther­ing not only my pro­fes­sion­al knowl­edge, but my knowl­edge of Indige­nous cul­ture. A key learn­ing expe­ri­ence through­out this place­ment came about when I attend­ed the Intro­duc­tion to Cen­tral Aus­tralian Abo­rig­i­nal Cul­ture and Con­text Day, run by the Cen­tre for Remote Health. This was piv­otal in devel­op­ing my cul­tur­al aware­ness and my abil­i­ty to prac­tise cul­tur­al safe­ty for the remain­der of my placement.

I learnt about the dynam­ic his­tor­i­cal struc­tures that form Abo­rig­i­nal cul­tures and gained an under­stand­ing of the fac­tors in rur­al or remote com­mu­ni­ties that influ­ence Abo­rig­i­nal health. This day also allowed me to inter­act and socialise with many oth­er stu­dents from oth­er dis­ci­plines who were on place­ment in Alice Springs. Thank­ful­ly, due to this work­shop, I was then able to attend events around Alice Springs, trav­el to the West Mac­Don­nell Ranges and Ulu­ru togeth­er with these students.

What drew me to this par­tic­u­lar place­ment was the vast range of clients and oppor­tu­ni­ties to pro­vide care, not only with­in Alice Springs but also in very remote communities.

This was some­thing I had nev­er expe­ri­enced and would have nev­er expe­ri­enced with­out the oppor­tu­ni­ty pro­vid­ed at Desert Therapy.

Dur­ing our bush block’ the Desert Ther­a­py team would split up to vis­it their allo­cat­ed com­mu­ni­ties. I was for­tu­nate enough to fly with my super­vi­sors to Wingel­li­na (WA Bor­der), which meant fly­ing over the top of Ulu­ru and Kata Tju­ta! Here I spent a week with the team liv­ing at a miner’s camp and trav­el­ling to var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties around the WA/SA border.

Fol­low­ing this, we repacked the cars and drove through many dirt roads to Ampi­lat­wa­ja, north of Alice Springs, where we spent the week vis­it­ing clients in the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties. I was also able to trav­el to the Desert Therapy’s Ten­nant Creek clin­ic and pro­vide occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­py ser­vices in a small­er remote town.

Dur­ing the remote vis­its I worked with a range of clients, and in the process devel­oped many new skills, in par­tic­u­lar my abil­i­ty to recog­nise the impor­tance of Indige­nous cul­ture and adapt my prac­tice to be more cul­tur­al­ly aware. Work­ing in these remote com­mu­ni­ties was com­plete­ly eye-open­ing and a piv­otal learn­ing expe­ri­ence which I would not have had if it weren’t for the sup­port of the Desert Ther­a­py team.

After three weeks vis­it­ing remote com­mu­ni­ties, we returned to the town clin­ic, where I was able to extend on the skills I had learnt out bush.

Return­ing to the town tru­ly high­light­ed to me the sig­nif­i­cant demand and need for spe­cialised health care ser­vices in remote communities.

This expe­ri­ence has helped me devel­op my cul­tur­al­ly respon­sive com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills and prac­tice quite sig­nif­i­cant­ly. Due to the con­stant­ly chang­ing envi­ron­ments and fast-paced ses­sions, I was able to utilise the knowl­edge of oth­er mul­ti- dis­ci­pli­nary team mem­bers to col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly devel­op reports and for­malise clin­i­cal rea­son­ing, quick­ly and for very remote clients.

Anoth­er key oppor­tu­ni­ty dur­ing place­ment was being able to con­nect with oth­er OT stu­dents from Coffs Har­bour. Togeth­er, we were able to have stu­dent-led debrief ses­sions after vis­it­ing some of these remote com­mu­ni­ties, and ask each oth­er ques­tions about how to word reports or per­form cer­tain assessments.

In long-wind­ed sum­ma­ry, all these expe­ri­ences have shaped who I am as an occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pist today, and giv­en me skills which I may not have gained in Ade­laide. The lifestyle in Alice Springs is flex­i­ble and more relaxed, which is some­thing I was not used to and this put me out of my high­ly-organ­ised’ com­fort zone.

How­ev­er, being on place­ment at Desert Ther­a­py allowed me to embrace the flex­i­ble work, espe­cial­ly as I found that when you vis­it remote com­mu­ni­ties you spend time try­ing to locate clients and have no set schedule.

So, for some­one who is used to a very struc­tured and organ­ised sched­ule, I high­ly rec­om­mend under­tak­ing this expe­ri­ence, at Desert Ther­a­py or with a sim­i­lar organisation.

It push­es you to not be so rigid in your OT prac­tice and to involve your­self in the remote com­mu­ni­ty lifestyle. I hope that upon fin­ish­ing my degree this year, I can return to pro­vide more health­care to these remote com­mu­ni­ties, and return to Alice Springs!

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