Alice Cairns had a big decision to make when her family moved to the remote town of Weipa in Queensland, enabling her partner to work there as a doctor. She was just finishing her PhD and wanted to move forward with her research, but was it a realistic pathway to pursue so far up north? Postdoctoral research in remote Australia is almost unheard of, and it would be even more difficult in Alice’s field.
“It’s a challenge to fit something broad like community rehabilitation into research applications.”
Yet the need for innovation was clear. Discussions with local health services emphasised the community’s aspiration to better support elders and people with disability. Alice had the skills to evaluate and supervise an approach led by medical and allied health students. HOT NORTH was the springboard that set the idea into motion.
“Without HOT NORTH I wouldn’t have been able to continue with a strong research career,” said Alice.
HOT NORTH is a multidisciplinary collaboration involving eight of Australia’s leading health research organisations, which aims to improve health outcomes in the tropical north through projects that link organisations, translate research into outcomes and create pathways for health professionals.
The rehabilitation service developed by Alice and her team now drives a whole-of-community approach to help people age well in Weipa. Students drawn from metropolitan areas for clinical placements gain important perspective on remote health settings, building a new generation of healthcare providers with greater awareness of Australia’s biggest health challenges.
For Alice, connecting with a professional group of researchers who understand northern contexts has been critical to building the track record needed to continue supporting health innovation in Weipa.
“It’s really important that the government looks at unique ways to support rural and remote health research.
“Traditional funding bodies that don’t specifically earmark a percentage of funds for rural and remote places put us at quite a disadvantage… otherwise you will lose these skills in these areas,” said Alice.