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Celebrating our 2022 Aurora Award Winner Lynette Byers

10 Dec 2022

2022 Aurora Award recipient, Lynette (Lyn) Byers, who works as a Clinical Nurse Consultant with Nganampa Health Council in the APY Lands and volunteers on various boards and committees related to remote health, reflects on the value of paediatric experience, getting involved, and why culture is key to improving health care.

Lyn’s achieve­ments as a remote health pro­fes­sion­al are shared between clin­i­cal care and governance.

With a stetho­scope in one hand and a strat­e­gy doc­u­ment in the oth­er, Lyn works as a Clin­i­cal Nurse Con­sul­tant for Nganam­pa Health Coun­cil as a ros­tered clin­i­cian, edu­ca­tor, and qual­i­ty improve­ment con­sul­tant across six clinics. 

On top of this role, she facil­i­tates CRANAplus cours­es and was a long­stand­ing CRANAplus Board Mem­ber pri­or her deci­sion not to stand for re-elec­tion in October.

She rep­re­sent­ed CRANAplus on the Nation­al COVID-19 Clin­i­cal Evi­dence Task­force and chairs the Edi­to­r­i­al Com­mit­tee for the Remote Pri­ma­ry Health Care Manuals.

Those man­u­als are embed­ded in both gov­ern­ment and Abo­rig­i­nal Com­mu­ni­ty Con­trolled Health Ser­vices,” Lyn says. 

Their con­tent is trans­lat­ed to health sys­tems and embed­ded in them. They’re used as a ref­er­ence point when look­ing at cas­es and deter­min­ing the approach, and used as teach­ing man­u­als – even over­seas. I’m real­ly proud to have been able to contribute.”

Life­long development

An endorsed nurse prac­ti­tion­er, Lyn’s com­mit­ment to improv­ing the struc­tures sup­port­ing remote health is fuelled by a wealth of hands-on expe­ri­ence, which she’s still accumulating. 

She recalls the val­ue of work­ing in the adult and pae­di­atric wards of Alice Springs hos­pi­tal pri­or to head­ing to Dock­er Riv­er in 2001. It gave me a chance to under­stand the pop­u­la­tion catch­ment area,” she says. 

I could work out ways to com­mu­ni­cate with peo­ple who didn’t have Eng­lish as a first lan­guage, gain cul­tur­al aware­ness, and talk to peo­ple about local matters.

I could see the con­di­tions that were being admit­ted – and it was so valu­able to have done pae­di­atric work. When you work remote, you have to expect at least a third of the pop­u­la­tion is going to be under 25 years old.” 

As she head­ed fur­ther out, Lyn found her­self work­ing in con­di­tions con­ducive to per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al growth. 

Remote area care is the most col­lab­o­ra­tive work you can pos­si­bly do, and you can learn so much from your col­leagues,” she says. 

When we didn’t have as much equip­ment, and were using things like radio, it was hard­er to talk to some­one and run things past them. Now, it’s about col­lab­o­ra­tive care. It’s eas­i­er [than ever] to con­tact a col­league, spe­cial­ist, doc­tor, or anoth­er nurse.

In some ways you’re going to be scru­ti­nised a lot more when remote. Often there’s anoth­er nurse or med­ical stu­dent with you to learn some­thing, and often there’s fam­i­ly members. 

All of that means you can learn and do so much more than you can in oth­er conditions.”

Mem­o­rable moments

Reflect­ing on career moments that have stuck with her, Lyn remem­bers the ear­ly days when babies were born in the bush, and she was the only health pro­fes­sion­al present. 

My hus­band would be in the clin­ic too as he had to warm up the blan­kets to be ready for the new baby,” she says. 

And the grand­moth­er would be there, and my heart would be in my mouth, and I’d be pray­ing, because there was no way of evac­u­at­ing them. Where I was there was no night airstrip.

I had three [babies] a year for a num­ber of years, born out there… I wasn’t plan­ning that, but some of [the mums] were! 

When every­thing went well, and they stayed in the clin­ic… After, they’d go home to their place, and I’d go have a sleep. I’d see them in the after­noon and make sure all was well. That was real­ly affirm­ing, to see that.

This oth­er lady used to come in for a spe­cif­ic nee­dle once a month,” Lyn continues. 

I weighed her, and she’d lost a lot of weight… I looked at the notes. She’d been steadi­ly los­ing weight for months. 

I asked her, are you walk­ing? – because she used to walk. She said no, no, I’m not walk­ing, I don’t feel very well. I can’t feel like walk­ing.’ I had a clos­er look. 

When I made her lie on the bed, so I could see her tum­my, it wasn’t a mat­ter of feel­ing this unusu­al lump, I could see it stick­ing out. I’m hav­ing a melt­down inside – think­ing, she’s going to go, and I’ll nev­er see her again.

I brought her sis­ter in and said, I think you need to go to Alice Spring for investigation’.” 

Six weeks lat­er, the lady reap­peared back in com­mu­ni­ty and came in to see Lyn. 

I said What you are doing? Are you alright?’” Lyn recounts, still a lit­tle dis­be­liev­ing of the trans­for­ma­tion­al impact of her health check. The lady’s vis­it to a major hos­pi­tal had enabled the com­plete sur­gi­cal removal of her can­cer. She said, They took that rub­bish out, sis­ter. I feel bet­ter!’,” Lyn says.

Embed­ding cul­ture in care

Lyn’s believes RANs should aim to respect cul­ture rather than enforce a strict­ly bio­med­ical per­spec­tive, because trust is key to improv­ing health out­comes. She recalls the days pri­or to Pur­ple House, when com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers had to receive dial­y­sis in Alice Springs. 

They’d go to Alice Springs and quite often get lone­ly, and come back to com­mu­ni­ty,” Lyn says. I used to say, you come and tell me if you are in com­mu­ni­ty.’ … Peo­ple would leave dial­y­sis, but at least they would come and tell me. Then we could work out a plan. 

There was one lady that left dial­y­sis; there was a real­ly impor­tant funer­al. I said, Right, how can we work this out to give you a cou­ple of days?’” 

Lyn talked to the dial­y­sis unit and worked togeth­er with the client to take mea­sures to keep her healthy until the funer­al in three days’ time, using resources avail­able local­ly. Despite their best efforts, the lady’s health dete­ri­o­rat­ed with­out dialysis. 

The way funer­als worked in that com­mu­ni­ty… The body was in Alice Springs, and the char­ter plane would bring it out on the morn­ing of the funer­al,” Lyn says. 

This poor lady got so unwell that she said she has to go back to town… We were on the airstrip wait­ing for RFDS, when the char­ter plane came in with the coffin.

She just couldn’t wait any longer… so she went in on the plane and had a good out­come. But I felt so sor­ry for her because she got so close. We were all cross­ing our fin­gers and hop­ing she’d get to the funer­al. It just didn’t quite work out. But she was grate­ful that we tried.” 

It’s a sad sto­ry – Lyn has many hap­pi­er sto­ries to tell – but it does reflect the impor­tance of local care, the poten­tial impact of health inequity on cul­tur­al prac­tices, and the need for health prac­ti­tion­ers to fac­tor in the cul­tur­al needs of clients.

One of many

Despite her achieve­ments, Lyn remains hum­ble, and far from complacent.

I was walk­ing around Alice Springs hos­pi­tal once with a col­league, look­ing for a patient,” she says in an illus­tra­tive anecdote. 

My col­league says, Oh good­ness, it’s like walk­ing around with the Queen. Every­one is wav­ing and say­ing hel­lo to you.’ 

I said, I don’t know if that’s a good thing. There are too many peo­ple in hos­pi­tal that I know. 

It was real­ly nice to be acknowl­edged [with the Auro­ra Award], but a lot of peo­ple do an awful lot of work out remote,” Lyn says in closing. 

We all con­tribute, in all sorts of ways.”

Dis­cov­er past win­ners of CRANAplus recog­ni­tion awards, includ­ing the Auro­ra Award, Excel­lence in Remote and Iso­lat­ed Health Prac­tice Award, Excel­lence in Edu­ca­tion and/​or Research Award, and the Col­lab­o­ra­tive Team Award.