Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a Remote Area Nurse (RAN).
I dreamed of sitting under trees on dry river beds with the old ladies hearing their stories of days gone. I left Melbourne when I graduated from uni, and did my graduation year in a country hospital in Western Australia, and then I headed to the Kimberley.
Every bit of study I did was working towards being a RAN. Every job I took was to shape my skill base to become one of these super nurses that I so admired.
I learnt how to cannulate (put a drip in), suture (stitch), X-ray, vaccinate. I did courses in trauma and primary health, health promotion, public health, burns. I learnt about social determinants of health. I studied Pharmacotherapeutics so I could give antibiotics without directions from a doctor.
The goal was always to increase access to quality healthcare for all Australians - no matter what isolated location they were in, and to find out more about my nan's culture.
By the time I was 26, after twenty months working the streets of Fitzroy Crossing, I applied for my first remote gig. I ended up working in Yuendumu (a few hours up the Tanami NW of Alice).
Despite the fact that Yuendumu had 3G coverage, there was no call bell at the clinic. When community members needed to access the nurses after hours, and there was no if, on call in Yuendumu was ex-hausting, they would look for the house that had the "ambulance" (troop carrier with a stretcher and an O2 bottle) parked out the front, and come and knock on your door.
I was 26, and a stranger in this community. I was required to open the door to strangers and attend the clinic by myself.
I've always been a stickler for safety after being assaulted in a Kimberley emergency department as a very junior nurse.
I won't see men alone, and refuse to treat intoxicated persons without a sober person present. Groups of young men were sent away from behind my locked screen door to get a grandma or an aunty.
The set of skills that RAN's are required to remain current in, means that we attend an exhausting amount of professional development.
This, and the unique set of challenges we face, has led to a tight knit community. I'm pretty sure we all know or know of each other. Thank goodness, because it's not like you can discuss your shitty day with your mum or friends in the city when your shitty day involved; driving 250km through thick mud, and four terrifying river crossings with a sick 12-day-old in the back, because the efffing airstrip is under water, and you've been told the choppers can't fly in this weather.
Tell that story to your mum ... see how much she worries. I can't talk to my mum about that, but I can chat with my "sisters".
What happened to Gayle this week is all of our greatest fears. I've felt sick since hearing about it and there have been plenty of tears since her body was found.
This is the third critical incident since December with two sexual assaults on RANs in the Northern Territory.
I think all we (RANs) can do now, is focus on making this the catalyst for change.
- No more single nurse posts
- No more single responder situations.
- No more relying on the outdated idea that nurses are nuns and therefore untouchable.
Every nurse deserves to feel safe. I wholly recognise that it may not be possible for a second nurse to attend to each call out, but every on call shift must have a driver or security available to it.
Funding must be made available for this. Safety must come first.
Laura McGoldrick is a 32-year-old nurse from Melbourne who is currently working in a two-nurse post about half way between Cairns and Weipa. She has been a nurse for 10 years, and has worked as a Remote Area Nurse since 2010 in clinics and health centres across the Kimberley, Central Australia and Far North Queensland.