Exhilarating! My week with the Royal Flying Doctor Service – by Rebecca Irwin – medical student and NRHSN Chair

The unique exhilarating experience of flying to remote communities and stations to provide health care is unparalleled by anything I have experienced thus far. I loved flying with the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) to remote locations, hopping from station to station, community to community, providing health care as we went. Occasionally we were diverted by emergencies and landed to assist remote health professionals on the ground to assess, treat and transfer patients to tertiary care. The RFDS team was unbelievable!

I loved the General Practice work. The usual consults about cardiac risk factors, adjusting medications and administering childhood immunisations all carried out in beautiful yet isolated destinations. It was fascinating to witness the complexity of delivering primary health care in a remote setting. Seeing the organisation required to ensure all the equipment, resources and medications were on the plane. I gained an understanding of the impact that living remote has on every aspect of health care. From the provision of antenatal care, childhood assessment and immunisations, disease diagnosis, emergency care to managing chronic conditions and palliation. I met strong station families and workers. Where the nearest neighbours are over 50kms away and the nearest grocery store or health facility over 100kms away. I had insightful discussions over delicious homemade goodies and cups of tea regarding station life, the cattle and of course the weather. The children were enrolled in school of the air and parents took on the added responsibility of educating their children. The children I met loved living on the station, exploring the land and playing with the animals.

I met inspirational health professionals, such as the Remote Area Nurses working in Indigenous communities who were providing health care with very limited resources. One clinic didn’t even have a PAT slide to transfer patients from the emergency trolley to the ambulance trolley and the ambulance itself was an occupational hazard. Despite this I witnessed immense compassion and resilience to provide quality health care and improve the lives of those living within the community.

I witnessed many moments of compassion, like when transferring a confused elderly gentleman to Adelaide the flight nurse held his hand as the plane took off and landed to provide assurance that all was okay. Most RFDS retrievals are done by a single flight nurse, who has an extensive scope of practice with emergency nursing and midwifery qualifications. In the words of one of the flight nurses, who had been working for 10 years with the RFDS – “Flying everyday keeps me grounded, each day truly brings something different and as a flight nurse I am independent.”

I am very lucky to have had this rural placement experience thanks to the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine Presidents Prize and the Royal Flying Doctors Service in Port Augusta.

If you are a health student who would like to organise a rural or remote placement check out National Rural Health Student Networks Rural Placement Guide: http://www.nrhsn.org.au/resources/publications/rural-placements-guide/

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