Working Off The Beaten Track

The thought of leaving a cosmopolitan city for the laidback pace of a regional or remote town, is often enough to dissuade allied health and medical professionals from making the switch. A fear of a life without retail, recreational activities and your favourite coffee chain, could potentially be the final nail in the coffin, even if you were only a tiny bit unsure. But what if the perceptions of regional and remote town living were completely disparate from the reality? What if like most professionals who make the move, you ended up not only living it, but loving it? Could it be that the vision of being castaway in a community disconnected from the rest of civilisation is false?

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Workforce, the number of Allied Health professionals fall from around 440 per 100,000 people in major cities, to 275 in outer regional locations. This falls even further in remote locations, dropping down to 225 practitioners per 100,000 people.

Whilst we do have candidates who actively seek assignments in the furthest, most remote locations in Australia, the reality of the large majority of our regional or remote placements is surprisingly different to the perception, in a good way. With lively and thriving cities such as the Gold Coast, Darwin, Perth, Cairns and Newcastle classified as regional, perhaps it’s time the word ‘regional’ had a rebrand.

Typically, these regional centres have everything major cities do, albeit more boutique. Whilst you may struggle to find a Starbucks, this absence is more than catered for by artisan coffee shops and brewers. Instead of the ‘cookie cutter’ model, you can enjoy a more authentic experience which independent establishments offer.

Even remote towns, such as Tamworth or Broken Hill are only an hour by plane from the nearest capital city, although far-flung placements such as Thursday Island or Karratha take a while longer to navigate. However, the unique beauty of these locations often acts as a popular magnet to entice professionals to experience something different, somewhere different. With so many amazing locations to explore in our country, now is the perfect time to try a tree or sea change on for size.

Why should you consider remote or regional placements?

In addition to being able to explore some of Australia’s natural beauty, growing cities and cultural hubs, remote and regional placements bring with them, many benefits. Most practitioners receive extra training, due to bursaries that are available to encourage remote work. This continual professional development (CPD) fund can be used to add new qualifications and courses to extend skills.

With a larger geographical scope, those working in remote and regional areas are often exposed to a broader range of patients and conditions. Combine this with smaller teams, allied health and medical professionals also learn how to be more resourceful and work autonomously. This typically leads to increased opportunities to progress or perhaps sub-specialise due to the common ailments found in the region. Your skills and experience will not only broaden, but you’ll also make a huge difference to close-knit communities.

“Generally, in metro locations, you are more pressed for time to scan a higher volume of patients. In remote settings the volume of patients isn’t as demanding, but you take on a bit of other paperwork and organising bookings. There is more allowance to work at your own pace.” says Belinda Lines.

Kellie Williams who has worked in communities such as Cooktown, Weipa, Dubbo, Katherine and Tennant Creek, adds:

“There is some quite advanced pathology that you might never see in metro centres because health care is so abundant there. I have also experienced more foetal anomalies in 12 months here than my previous 10 years scanning.”

However, whilst the teams are often smaller, it doesn’t mean practitioners are out on their own. Visiting specialists often attend regional and remote locations, whether that’s to run Obs and Gynae, ENT or Orthopaedic consultations and clinics or increasing the locum’s exposure to additional specialities to widen their skillset.

Belinda explains “The workload in these places comprises of a broad caseload with some interesting and quite advanced pathologies. You become familiar with the doctors in that facility which helps in communication with them to ultimately better guide examinations to aid them treating the patient. Some places have brilliant radiologists who are great to learn from but others have no radiologists on site. Most often though, there will be a radiologist you can call to discuss a particular case when needed.”

Often a multidisciplinary approach means your expertise and opinions are needed and valued, so you play a more active role in patent care and the outcome. Not only is this professionally rewarding but the impact you can make in these close-knit communities is far more profound compared to the bigger, more densely populated cities.

Making a lifestyle switch

Another unseen benefit is a lifestyle switch, which allows professionals and their families to achieve a better work/life balance. From subsidised, more affordable housing, to being able to explore the great outdoors, many of our locums quickly fall in love with the area and the flexibility it provides.

“As a family, the laid-back lifestyle of remote living suited us. The Cape is a great place for outdoor activities, camping and fishing, which is what we enjoy as a family.” Kellie explains.

Belinda, who has completed many placements across Far North Queensland, the Torres Strait and other remote communities, adds: “Traveling as a family we enjoy being able to explore the areas and be adventurous when we want to be. We made the decision to home educate our children which allowed us to be more flexible as to where we go and introduce to children to many different experiences and cultures.”

Many locums quickly settle into the area, thanks to a strong bond, where sporting clubs and community groups bring everyone together. Before you know it, you’ll also be part of the community. And should you become homesick or need to visit friends and family, clients often provide one or two flights back over a set time, so you are never too far away from home.

OK, so what are the drawbacks?

Whilst there are many benefits to working in remote and regional areas, there are of course some drawbacks. Remote and regional locations can vary massively, with the most isolated areas lacking in shops and necessities which many of us take for granted as being readily available. It is therefore important to research the location of a job; Cairns is completely different to Thursday Island for example. Knowing which you will enjoy, is important.

For some, working autonomously may not be what they are looking for, and in a small team, the expectation could be that you’ll adjust instantly when in fact, you may have never tried it before. But as we know, until we try something, it’s impossible to know for sure whether it’s right. However, most, if not all of our candidates end up with a broader skillset and are often supported with additional training and guidance to ensure they are equipped for the placement.

So, if you’ve got a little voice on your shoulder urging you quietly to just ‘give it a shot’, listen in a bit harder and consider this – if not now, then when? For an honest conversation and details about our current remote and regional opportunities, give one of the friendly team at Aussie Locums a call and find out what adventures await. Your skills and experience will make a huge difference to our regional towns and in exchange, you’ll have memories which will last a lifetime, or at least longer than your next Starbucks coffee.

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