Scholarship in memory of Gayle Woodford makes lasting impact

Associate Professor Sue Lenthall

Tuesday, 23 March, marks five years since the tragic murder of South Australian remote area nurse (RAN) Gayle Woodford.

It is also the fifth anniversary of a scholarship established in Mrs Woodford’s memory that is improving the knowledge, skills, safety and security of the country’s remote health workers.

Jointly established by CRANAplus and the Centre for Remote Health, the scholarship provides education, support and professional services for the remote health workforce, plus covers all course fees for one recipient each year to undertake a Graduate Certificate in Remote Health Practice, offered through Flinders University.

Mrs Woodford was the sole nurse on duty at the health clinic in the remote South Australian town of Fregon when she was murdered by known criminal Dudley Davey after she responded to a callout.

“Gayle was a remote area nurse who was incredibly well respected within the industry,” CRANAplus CEO Katherine Isbister says.

“Her tragic death resonated with many RANs who had experienced issues with safety and security. It was a call to action that much more needed to be done around safety and security within the remote and isolated health workforce.”

A push for better protection for RANs by abolishing single nurse posts and requiring two people on after-hours calls outs, dubbed ‘Gayle’s Law’, grew in the wake of the tragedy, with legislation passed in South Australia in 2017.

A review of ‘Gayle’s Law’, to determine whether it has been implemented as intended and its impact on health services and the safety of health professionals providing care in remote communities across South Australia, is currently underway. A push to extend the law nationally remains ongoing.

When launching the scholarship, CRANAplus also undertook a wide-ranging security and safety study to identify issues related to the health and safety of its workforce and come up with solutions.

Funded by the Australian government, the Remote Area Workforce Safety and Security Project produced a suite of resources, including national safety guidelines for remote health, and training materials.

“Being a health worker in remote and rural areas can be an incredibly rewarding career, with the opportunity to make a huge contribution to communities who are in desperate need of good healthcare,” Ms Isbister says.

“As with any job, though, there can be challenges. Working in remote areas can be hard to get used to, particularly the sense of isolation, but CRANAplus strives to ensure that anybody who chooses remote health work is as prepared as they can be.”

Ms Isbister says the scholarship provides the organisation with the ideal platform to both contribute to outcomes and celebrate Gayle’s memory. Applications are now open for the sixth Gayle Woodford Memorial Scholarship.

Inaugural Gayle Woodford Memorial Scholarship recipient Vesna Balaban.

Inaugural scholarship recipient Vesna Balaban now works as a registered nurse for the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress in Areyonga, about 220 kilometres west of Alice Springs, a town with 200 people.

“You get to know everyone – the families, the elders who make decisions,” says Vesna, who considers the scholarship instrumental in allowing her to pursue her chosen career.

“The course deepened my knowledge and skills, and it is more than just the practical knowledge. Health workers in remote areas come from a wide range of cultures and different backgrounds. The course makes you think really hard about yourself and your own culture. It’s how you stand, how you speak to a person – it makes you very aware.”

Applications for this year’s Gayle Woodford Memorial Scholarship close on 31 July 2021. The scholarship is open to registered nurses and midwives, Aboriginal and Torres Strat Islander health practitioners, allied health practitioners and medical officers who meet certain entry requirements.

For full details and to apply click here

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