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The right direction for Emma
A chance meeting at a bus stop catapulted new CRANAplus Board member Emma Barritt from the world of academia into life as a remote area nurse in Indigenous communities in Outback Australia.
“Growing up I have always had a deep interest in both social justice issues and the history of Australia’s First Nations People, so studying Australian History, Politics and English at university – in a way – did prepare and lead me to where I am now,” says Emma.
“From that random chat with someone who’d just completed a remote nursing placement, I knew immediately it was the right direction for me.”
So Emma, originally from the Barossa Valley in South Australia, abandoned her PhD in History and completed a graduate entry nursing degree at Flinders University where she was able to choose subjects that allowed her to explore further what a career in remote health might look like. That was 12 years ago.
Emma worked in a range of regional and remote locations in the Northern Territory for about 10 years before moving two and a half years ago to the Pilbara region in Western Australia where she is now working as the Clinical Manager — Remote Services for Puntukurnu Aboriginal Medical Service.
“Becoming a Board member is an opportunity to make a contribution to remote health in a different way beyond my professional work, to bring my skills and knowledge to a different forum,’ says Emma who holds a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Nursing and a Master of Public Health. She has experience across a diversity of roles including program coordination, clinical education and health service management and administration.
“What really motivated me to put my hand up for the director position is knowing that I can bring to this role contemporary experience of what it is like right now working in the remote primary health care environment on the front line. I am in touch with the issues on the ground for remote health workers.”
“Working in the NT in a whole range of different remote health environments, I was very lucky to have some very strong and inspiring mentors and role models who have shaped my journey,” says Emma.
Emma is now based in the mining town of Newman, and her working week revolves around visiting four of the most remote communities in the country.
Puntukurnu Aboriginal Medical Service has just opened an Aboriginal medical service for the Indigenous townsfolk who, until recently, used the mainstream services at the hospital and local GP service.
“This is very exciting and something we have been waiting for for a long time,” says Emma. “As well as now having a culturally responsive primary health care service for Aboriginal people within Newman we are also working hard to bring a dialysis service online so that local Aboriginal people do not have to travel so far from home to receive dialysis. .”
The provision of culturally responsive care is a key interest of Emma’s. “During my nursing studies, I met some incredible mentors who led me to develop a deep interest in what it means to work in a culturally responsive and trauma informed way. I would particularly like to thank Doctor Kerry Taylor whose critical teachings around cultural competency and communicating effectively in a cross cultural space have shaped my own practice and passion for supporting other clinicians to develop their own practice.”
“Working in a culturally responsive manner means providing safe and effective care within a framework of respect for traditional knowledge and approaches to health and wellbeing. It also means working from a constant position of deep personal reflective practice, being mindful of our own cultural narratives and understanding the impact of history, trauma and power-dynamics that can exist within every interaction that we have with our clients and colleagues.”
CRANAplus plays a critical role in preparing nurses for working remote and assisting them to maintain their competency while they are in the field says Emma. “It offers many training packages in a range of modalities to get people readyfor working in the remote context — not just practical skills but also offers opportunities for further development in cultural competency, management, mental health, managing worker wellbeing and much more . It is all those wraparound competency skills before you hit the community that are really important.
“In years gone by for those starting out in remote, the emphasis would have mostly been ‘what experience do you have with emergencies’. Now, although emergency skills are still important there is much more emphasis on really good quality comprehensive primary health care skills and the cultural competency that is required to execute these efficiently.”
Emma has been a member of CRANAplus since her student days, learning about the organisation through the Bush Support Service (BSS), which she admires greatly. “I had a very traumatic incident during a student placement in a remote community. A colleague advised I reach out to BSS which I did and the support they offered was phenomenal. Not only did they help me process the event that had occurred but they were able to help me see the event in a ‘trauma informed’ way and against the complex context of the challenges that that community was facing at the time. I guess that incident could have put me off working remote. Thankfully I had BSS and it didn’t – it’s such a brilliant service and I would encourage all remote workers and their families to utilise it.
Emma says she is looking forward to increasing her skills as a director. “I have been privileged to work as a CEO of a small Aboriginal Medical Service in the Northern Territory so am familiar with corporate governance and working with boards. However, this is my first time in a Director position. CRANAplus has been really exceptional in the induction and orientation they have provided me for this role and I’d like to thank all the Directors and staff at CRANAplus for their friendly and warm welcome.”
“Emma says she is very grateful for this opportunity and in 2021 is really looking forward to contributing to the critical work that CRANAplus is doing in its ongoing and continued advocacy and support for the rural, regional and remote health workforce.”