Rural placements have the capacity to transform students professionally and personally as well as create unexpected opportunities and lifelong memories.
Placement coordinators, placement supervisors along with students with rural placement experience recently shared what’s involved in undertaking a rural placement.
Alongside the benefits and the challenges, students learnt how best to prepare including managing their own, and others, expectations. Other important points made were that rural placements are fun; communities are welcoming and there are plenty of opportunities to make new friends and connections.
University of Queensland nursing/midwifery third-year student Cate Ostwald described her Royal Flying Doctor Services (RFDS) placement in July 2022 as a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.
“When I was offered a placement with RFDS out of Townsville, I was already initially excited. If I could wrap up that experience in one word I would have to say that RFDS nursing is ‘completely addictive’.”
“You’re going out and giving people the same quality of care that they would receive in a tertiary hospital in a metropolitan setting. You’re ensuring that just because they live a bit farther out, that they can still receive that extremely high standard of care.
“I think that is one of the biggest privileges that you can have as a nurse to be able to give people that same level of care no matter where they call home.”
Cate has also undertaken a six-week placement at Dalby Hospital in the Western Downs Region of Queensland, which included shifts on the general ward, theatre, renal and in the emergency department.
“You’re with nurses, doctors, allied health professionals, and Indigenous health workers who just want to share as much knowledge with you as they can, none of that competitive nature that you may have witnessed [in metro settings] with placements where everyone’s vying to see the most.
“It’s a really supportive, learning environment where you can ask as many questions as you want. If you want to take time to learn what you’re doing, why you’re doing your job, you should probably think about going rural.”
UQ Clinical Educator Christie-Anne Hunter said students undertaking rural placements had the opportunity to see a breadth of clinical practice.
“Whether that’s trauma, medical, paediatric. It might be a chronic care presentation; it might be an uncontrolled diabetic who walks in with complications. It might be an elderly patient that’s had a fall and needs to be admitted to hospital for discharge planning. So you definitely do get to see a wide range of presentations.”
Director of Nursing and nurse practitioner Sandra Bettles at Burketown Health Centre in the Gulf of Carpentaria encouraged students to broaden their horizons.
“You could see anything from A-Z. We’ve got a wide area that we cover which is up to three hours away (300km) – we see road trauma, cattle station injuries and then your everyday presentations that turn up in an ED. We also do chronic disease management.”
Regional West Queensland nursing and midwifery student Anna Forrest said rural placements opened up different avenues for students.
“It’s an opportunity to get uncomfortable and being uncomfortable is not a bad thing. The more uncomfortable you are, the quicker you’ll learn how to work on your feet and it will help you reduce any stresses you have around things that make you nervous in your nursing care.
“If you’re on the fence about doing it, I would say just take the plunge and go and get uncomfortable and see how you feel being in another place with people you don’t know. Learn how to do your nursing care in a community that isn’t a massive city where you’re used to what you’re community is.”
SQRH Student Placement Coordinator Cherilyn Bickers urges students looking to do rural to be proactive.
“One of my roles is to advocate for rural placements for local students and to give people that aren’t from rural areas that opportunity to experience what rural life really is.
“If you’ve got the passion to go somewhere, keep on to your university about that, reach out to your local UDRH. Jump online, search the University Department of Rural Health.
For more information, visit: The Australian Rural Health Education Network
Go Rural Virtually is an online forum for health students, from all disciplines and year levels, to come together and learn about the day to day realities of practicing and living in rural and remote locations.