This workforce story is from Ry, a physiotherapist working in Mareeba, Far North Queensland. Ry’s story reinforces the need for rural students to be able to access training in rural clinical schools ideally close to home, and have established career pathways and networks that facilitate an easy transition to employment after graduation.
Ry’s story also shows the need to be creative, to be flexible and use whatever is at hand in the absence of easy access to specialists or resources.
I’ve been in Mareeba (Far North Queensland) almost three years now. It’s my first position post-graduation. I studied at James Cook University in Townsville and did my schooling in Ingham, nearby. I couldn’t see myself working in a city. I did city placements and it was so big, you could get lost in it. I didn’t find so much that I liked to do and see.
I did a rural placement in Mackay and the team was so close-knit and everyone was so supportive and we all worked really closely with other professions. These experiences shaped me and when I was applying for jobs, I only applied for rural positions. The word that resonates when I think about the way we work is ‘autonomous’. You have to be confident stepping out of your comfort zone when you are, sometimes, the only physio available servicing outreach, maternity, acute care, paediatrics and clinics at the hospital. You have to be willing to give it a go, take each case as it comes, and know who and when to ask for help. You get a lot of trust instantly in rural areas from patients and colleagues that you do not see so much in the cities.
On a typical day I start in the acute ward. We have a multidisciplinary meeting, do triage and as the day progresses, I might get called into Emergency or Maternity or Paediatric wards. I’ll finish the case loads in the wards and I have clinics in the afternoon or groups like our ‘falls’ group.
As far as challenges are concerned we do not have the specialists or resources that are available in the city. We use whatever we have at hand to deal with whatever is at hand. In rural practice, you also find that people are more likely to present with many issues they have ‘saved up’ for you. By the time they get to you, they are saying ‘I’ve got a sore back, I’m about to get a knee replacement and my shoulder is done. What can you do for me in 30 minutes?”
You have to be creative and innovative when you are working without immediate access to things that people in the city might take for granted. For example, I saw a woman recently with a broken prosthesis. A physio at the amputee clinic said she would need it replaced at a cost of a few thousand dollars and much time and travel. She could not spare the time and money so I took off the broken part and used thermoplast and Velcro to fix and replace it. Functionally, it worked. Aesthetically, it might not have been that beautiful but the patient was happy and, when she did re-present at the amputee clinic, they commended me on the new part. People really appreciate what you do.