Building resilience in health providers working remote


A nation-wide support service for remote area health workers is the ‘best job in the world’ according to senior clinical psychologist Dr Annmaree Wilson.

Dr Wilson heads up a team of 11 psychologists, including two Aboriginal psychologists, as part of the CRANAplus Bush Support Service 1800 support line. Dr Wilson and her team are focussed on working with remote area health practitioners to build and maintain psychological resilience.

“The key issues for health workers in remote locations are similar in some ways to issues facing workers in the city, but also unique. The stressors of modern life seem to be increasing for all of us and there is a growing understanding in the psychological literature that resilience can be developed and worked on,” she says.

“I think nursing itself is a risk factor for stress as nurses often take on a lot and remote nursing presents some added challenges,” Dr Wilson says. “There is an increasing demand for nurses to be more highly skilled and do more with less resources. On top of that you have the tyranny of distance and the likelihood of being frequently exposed to traumatic events which increases the risk of being stressed and burnt out.”

Having a 24-hour telephone support service for remote area health workers is a great acknowledgement of the challenges that come with working in the bush, Dr Wilson says.

“I think it is really hard for people who haven’t worked remote to know what that experience is like. It presents some unique contextual factors in terms of the isolation and the lack of access to coping strategies people in the city can draw on.

“Most of us can call on a friend or family member to catch up with and debrief if we’ve had a particularly hard day at work. Nurses and health workers in remote settings are less likely to have access to those networks,” she says. “That’s the beauty of the CRANAplus bush support service. We are available 24/7, every day of the year, to talk to people and help them build and maintain their resilience and coping strategies.”

Organisations and individuals are becoming increasingly aware of the need to develop psychological resilience, but it often gets overlooked in busy clinical settings, Dr Wilson says.

“I think we need to keep this issue of building psychological resilience in our health workforce at the top of the agenda. Stress can lead to burn out and burn out can lead to serious mental health issues,” she says.

“We need to raise awareness of resilience being essential to prevent burn out. It needs to be prioritised. Clinical skills are often privileged over the need to work on selfcare and psychological resilience, but they go hand in hand. We are no good to our patients if we are running on empty.”

Dr Wilson says the latest psychological research coming out of the positive psychology field offers some practical activities people can build into their daily lives to enhance emotional wellbeing and build resilience.

“The research suggests a regular mindfulness meditation practice is a core element of thriving psychologically. By mindfulness I mean just tuning into a specific thing like your breathing and taking a break from the critical thinking that induces stress.

“Another thing is the importance of creating and maintaining positive relationships and social interaction. Keeping a journal to track emotional wellbeing and identify stress triggers is also encouraged. This is a kind of reflective practice that gives an individual more insight into what is going on for them and why it might be going on. Finally, but equally important is engaging in a creative activity that takes you away from thinking about work and makes you happy. It’s really about getting some insight into what works for you and making time for these activities when you’re working in remote locations.”

*CRANAplus bush support services offers free 24hr telephone counselling every day of the year for ALL remote health workers, service providers and their families.

Call 1800 805 391 if you would like to check in with one of the qualified psychologists.

Check out this great video about the Bush Support Service.

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