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The right direction for Emma

1 Mar 2021

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.”