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Making the most of working in remote communities

11 Aug 2022

Registered Nurse/Nurse Practitioner Chris Birch, from the CRANAplus Nursing & Midwifery Roundtable, shares a few tips to help health workers get the most out of working in remote communities.

Chris Birch, Reg­is­tered Nurse and Nurse Practitioner

First-time remote nurs­es get ideas from the media which can be mis­lead­ing,” says Chris. 

Pro­grams may focus on the fun part, going to the pub – but as the on-call nurse, you won’t be able to have a drink. Then there are the pro­grams that focus on assaults and crime and you might get a poor impres­sion, a warped view.”

Work­ing remote­ly can be a fan­tas­tic expe­ri­ence, says Chris, that offers many ben­e­fits and oppor­tu­ni­ties, but too often she takes over from a relief nurse to find he or she has hard­ly left the nurs­ing post.

Often loca­tions are so short-staffed you can feel you don’t have time to get out and about. But my advice is to do just that,” she says.

You may find your­self hit­ting the ground run­ning, but take the time to ori­en­tate your­self. You have got to feel hap­py. You are on call con­stant­ly and you have to top up, and nature can do that for you.”

Chris is now per­ma­nent­ly at Coral Bay in WA, which she describes as like a land-based cruise ship, with 150 to 300 locals main­ly involved in tourism and up to 5,000 tourists at any one time, plus an Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ty nearby.

Oth­er posts have includ­ed Fitzroy Cross­ing where 98 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion is Abo­rig­i­nal, the coastal town of Ger­ald­ton, and Eucla, in WA near the SA bor­der on the Nullarbor.

Be open to mak­ing con­nec­tions in the com­mu­ni­ty,” says Chris, and be pre­pared to make life­long friends in the process.

I am a keen bak­er so when I land in a remote com­mu­ni­ty, I whip up muffins and head down to the local police sta­tion and intro­duce myself.”

That’s my skill, what I can offer. Every­one is different.”

I rec­om­mend you get to know all the mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty. Vis­it the school, and get invit­ed to morn­ing teas. I love being part of the small com­mu­ni­ty, pick­ing up rub­bish, hang­ing out with the teach­ers and police, and try­ing to be a pos­i­tive female role model.

Now here in Coral Bay, I am also involved on a con­ser­va­tion com­mit­tee, end­ing up being a wildlife carer.”

Two exam­ples she gives is res­cu­ing a seag­ull with a fish hook in its mouth and putting a joey who wasn’t walk­ing on the local school bus to reach the vet.

Find your­self a walk­ing bud­dy, says Chris, who sug­gests back­pack­ers pass­ing through doing casu­al work, police offi­cers or anoth­er nurse are often the answer. 

Explore the region while you are there,” she says. You will get to expe­ri­ence and see things that the aver­age tourist doesn’t get a chance to see.

Chris Birch, Reg­is­tered Nurse and Nurse Practitioner

Ask your clients what is there to see and do?’ Make con­tact with local Abo­rig­i­nal Elders, and ask if there are any areas cul­tur­al­ly not appro­pri­ate to vis­it. They’ll say don’t go up that hill.’ Maybe they’ll take you out.”

Chris also has tips on the work front.

No two days are the same,” she says, and it’s impor­tant to make the most of each expe­ri­ence, whether it’s being rushed off your feet or hav­ing a day of no vis­i­tors at all. That’s the day when you have to keep your­self busy, clean­ing, stock­tak­ing and check­ing out-of-date stock. That can help you work out what the most com­mon and least com­mon sit­u­a­tions will be for you.”

If you like auton­o­my, you’ll love remote.” 

Some­times it’s just you and maybe a health work­er, or St John ambu­lance vol­un­teers. And you do what you can with what you’ve got. No bells and whis­tles and you have to go back to basics,” says Chris.

In terms of skills, Chris advis­es nurs­es inter­est­ed in remote work to do as much train­ing and as many cours­es as possible. 

As a Nurse Prac­ti­tion­er, spe­cial­is­ing her Master’s Degree in emer­gency, Chris can pre­scribe, diag­nose and organ­ise tests, mak­ing it eas­i­er to pro­vide good holis­tic care to every mem­ber of the community”.

I believe you need to have a sol­id back­ground in emer­gency care as you are on your own most of the time, and don’t have the sup­port health work­ers have in region­al and urban hos­pi­tals,” she says, and find a men­tor, some­one who has been remote, who can advise you.”

Lis­ten to Chris on the CRANAcast pod­cast Episode 4 and learn about her expe­ri­ence deal­ing with flood con­di­tions and hav­ing to air­lift a very sick patient from a near­by gold­mine by helicopter.