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A CRANAplus Members' guide on retiring from remote area nursing

7 Apr 2023

Retired rural and remote area nurses Stewart, Karen, June and Tracy share their retirement journeys and discuss transitioning out of the workforce, preparing your finances and home, pursuing your interests, and dealing with change.

Stew­art Rop­er pic­tured out­side the Ade­laide train­ing rooms with his photography

Stewart’s real­i­sa­tion that he was approach­ing tra­di­tion­al retire­ment age plant­ed the seed of retire­ment in his mind. 

I was still enjoy­ing the job [in the APY Lands],” he says, but I thought that no mat­ter what any­one says, there are oth­er things in life apart from working.”

Karen’s deci­sion to retire was fast-tracked when her hus­band sold his busi­ness. She decid­ed it was time, also fac­tor­ing in the length of time she had worked in the health care indus­try and the needs of her family.

June moved to Mar­ree in SA’s north ear­ly in her career and nursed there for around 40 years.

Just recent­ly, she decid­ed it was time to scale things back and she now works casu­al­ly as a home care assistant.

I wasn’t sure if I was real­ly ready to retire,” June says. You don’t always feel as old as you are… I am still as busy as before, as [I am] very involved with com­mu­ni­ty. Prob­a­bly even hard­er to get away now!”

For Tra­cy, whose name has been changed for pri­va­cy, the deci­sion to retire was heartbreaking.

Put off retir­ing until you real­ly need or want to,” she says. Age is no bar­ri­er to doing var­i­ous tasks safe­ly and we have skills that remain valu­able [until lat­er in life].”

Prepar­ing to leave work

When the time does come to retire, it’s impor­tant to work close­ly with your employ­er to ensure an effec­tive han­dover, Karen says.

I noti­fied my boss in Decem­ber – that was giv­ing six months’ notice,” she says.

Plan­ning for the con­ti­nu­ity and best out­come for the health ser­vice is very impor­tant. I’ve stepped into jobs where some­one has left sud­den­ly and there’s been no han­dover… Going in, and hav­ing to work out how the ser­vice func­tions with real­ly no knowl­edge, is a hard task.”

A qual­i­ty han­dover can also be a feel-good expe­ri­ence, Stew­art says. He is tak­ing a grad­ual approach to retire­ment and is still work­ing for brief peri­ods in the APY Lands.

I believe there’s a point in any job where it would be worth­while pass­ing onto some­one younger, so they can get things going and maybe bring in some new ideas,” he says.

It’s nice to do a good han­dover – it makes it more sat­is­fy­ing for your­self that you’ve hand­ed over and com­plet­ed most of the tasks you should’ve done before you retired.

In retire­ment, you always have options – whether it is vol­un­teer­ing for an organ­i­sa­tion, or work­ing part-time some­where. At the moment, it’s easy to get a hold of that kind of work – they’re look­ing for peo­ple everywhere.”

June tells CRANAplus Mag­a­zine she worked alone in Mar­ree for around 30 years but nowa­days there are oth­er staff to hand over to. Because she lives in town, she’s been able to con­tin­ue pass­ing on knowl­edge even after her offi­cial retirement.

They still call on me occa­sion­al­ly to ask me ques­tions and occa­sion­al­ly I’ve gone to help, manned the desk when some­body was sick,” she says.

Not total­ly stop­ping work has def­i­nite­ly helped with the change,” she con­tin­ues, refer­ring to her new role in home care.

If you real­ly feel you’re not ready, [stay­ing involved in some way] makes you feel like you’re still doing some­thing you spent lots of time train­ing for, and have been doing for years.”

June Andrew in 2013. Pho­to: RFDS.

Prepar­ing for life at home

Prepa­ra­tion for retire­ment ought to begin as soon as you decide you are retir­ing, inter­vie­wees for this arti­cle agree.

Tra­cy advis­es read­ers near­ing retire­ment to make their homes more live­able while they’re still working.

One should plan ahead to retire bear­ing in mind that income stops, so if not plan­ning to move into a pur­pose-built retire­ment home, do every­thing to the house that needs to be done to make it safe to retire in,” she says.

For exam­ple, periph­er­al vision dete­ri­o­rates, so ensure lit­tle step-type edges are smoothed out. If you have an under-bench oven, can you safe­ly remove the hot roast at 80 years old? Maybe refur­bish the kitchen while there is still an income to replace the cost.

Con­sid­er devel­op­ing a pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ship with gar­den­ing and clean­ing ser­vices before you need them so that you are hap­py to engage them when you can no longer do the tasks.”

Prepar­ing your finances is also key, says Stew­art, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it comes to set­ting up a retire­ment income stream with your super fund.

Finan­cial readi­ness is a long-term project that ought to begin 10, 20 or more years before retirement.

A lot of peo­ple wouldn’t have a lot of super at this stage, cer­tain­ly from my gen­er­a­tion,” he says.

If you can afford it, just keep putting a bit extra into your super – so you’ve got a ready source to get by.

The most impor­tant thing is to get rid of your mort­gage. [It would be hard] to con­tend with a mort­gage or rent if you didn’t have an ade­quate income from super.”

Karen Schnitzer­ling

Pur­su­ing hobbies 

Karen and her hus­band used to play golf reg­u­lar­ly, but work­ing away it became imprac­ti­cal and so she quit – after promis­ing her­self that she’d play again when retired.

Prob­a­bly three months out from retire­ment, I made sure to have a lit­tle hit, to get into the swing of it,” she says.

My hus­band had already organ­ised for me to be mea­sured and bought new clubs… Now I’m play­ing two or three times a week.

We also decid­ed we’re going to get anoth­er dog… and to get my gar­den ready for an open garden.” 

How­ev­er, play­ing catch-up around the house has put some of Karen’s well-laid recre­ation­al plans on pause for the time being.

When you retire and walk back in [to your house] – not real­ly hav­ing lived there for 20 years – you can be in for a sur­prise,” she says.

I haven’t emp­tied the shelves for 20 years. Because I wasn’t here… This must hap­pen to a lot of rur­al and remote nurs­es return­ing home – you can’t get to it until you’ve got time and are back liv­ing at home full-time.”

Stew­art, a pas­sion­ate pho­tog­ra­ph­er with a pub­lished book of pho­tographs called Palya, says his inter­ests have been keep­ing him busy dur­ing his retirement.

Being rea­son­ably active with a pas­time, hav­ing an inter­est… That’s prob­a­bly the most impor­tant thing,” he says.

I’ve got thou­sands of slides I’ve got to sort out still… I thought when I did retire I’d vol­un­teer and do some work with the muse­um. Also, that I’d have more time to catch up with friends, which is always put on the back­burn­er when you’re working.”

The emo­tion­al aspect

Stew­art has expe­ri­enced some doubts about whether he has made the right deci­sion, but he expects this is a com­mon expe­ri­ence and has been able to see his doubts as an inevitable part of his retire­ment journey.

It’s that nag­ging doubt whether you are doing the right thing,” he says, but you can’t go on work­ing for­ev­er so at some point of time you are going to have to face the decision.”

Karen says she now has a phi­los­o­phy that when you leave work, leave work”, because it’s impor­tant not to med­dle with the ser­vice that you have retired from, and to respect one’s successors. 

Although she ini­tial­ly thought she would keep up her reg­is­tra­tion, she ulti­mate­ly decid­ed not to because she had already switched it off in my brain”.

There are cer­tain events when work­ing as a health pro­fes­sion­al, that do leave us with some resid­ual stress, and I don’t think we’ll ever get away from that.

But I try not to dwell on it, but to recog­nise it’s there and know to seek help if it is not man­age­able for me.

I fin­ished my career dur­ing the pan­dem­ic and do feel a tad guilty about leav­ing a huge work­load to my suc­ces­sors. Now, I’m very hap­py to engage in the recre­ation­al pur­suits that I have and to give time to my hus­band, fam­i­ly, friends and dog.” 

June recog­nis­es the impor­tant role rela­tion­ships play in health care, which is one of her moti­va­tions for stay­ing involved.

When I first got here hard­ly any­one went along to the health ser­vice,” June recalls.

They’d only go when they were just about on death’s door. So I would encour­age them to go, to be proac­tive. When they realised I’d be stay­ing for a while, they start­ed get­ting used to me.

[When it came time to retire], the com­mu­ni­ty wouldn’t let me leave!” she says, tongue in cheek. So they found me some­where to live.

Grad­u­al­ly, I’ll prob­a­bly do less and less. But at the moment, I’m get­ting around okay and doing things, so I’m happy.

You’ve got to be hap­py with what you’re doing – what­ev­er you’re doing.”

CRANAplus Mem­bers approach­ing retire­ment who would like to stay involved may wish to con­sid­er being a men­tor on the CRANAplus LINKS Men­tor­ing Pro­gram. Read Dan’s sto­ry to dis­cov­er what your help could mean to an up-and-com­ing remote health professional.