Health Care broadens education aspirations

University of Sydney students at Broken Hill University, Department of Rural Health from left to right: Clara Timmis, Alexandria Head, Sonia Lam, Georgia Ward, Sally Bradfield, Maya Svagelli, Rebekah Tevelen. Picture: Otis Filley

An extended placement program for Nursing Students is currently being trialled across Far Western NSW to address workforce shortages and provide better health care across rural and remote communities. On Monday, seven final year Nursing students from The University of Sydney commenced orientation at Broken Hill University, Department of Rural Health. They will soon be placed across primary sites in Broken Hill, Coomealla and Robinvale for 15 weeks and then spend their final four weeks in smaller centres at Dareton, Menindee and Robinvale.

Nursing Academic Danielle White said that giving the students an extended stay in rural and remote communities will help attract work back into these areas and enable students to be more valuable to staff in their placement.

“When you’ve got students for a long time, staff have to ask, how can they be effective, because they are almost colleagues. So, they get a skillset that staff can actually use.”

Ms White said that the needs of rural and remote communities can be very different from urban areas. Working with experienced health professionals in these small communities can greatly expand students’ context of the different health needs of people in other communities.

“Typically, we support students to come into footprint for 2-6 weeks, they get a bit of a feel, but they don’t actually become engaged in the community, they don’t understand the resilience of the community and the benefits of living in a rural and remote community.”

Nursing student Sonia Lam said that the opportunity for an extended stay was an exciting prospect that will allow her to get a context beyond greater Sydney, where she has spent most of her life. “I have been trying to get my foot in the door in a rural context, so having this experience especially being six months long, allows me to settle in, meet new people and have connections with the community. I think I will definitely build relationships that I will be able to come back to.”

Ms Lam said that being in a practical setting would be a welcome change for the current cohort of students from the University of Sydney after completing most of their coursework online and through Zoom due to the COVID restrictions. “It’s definitely more difficult to ask questions on Zoom, not wanting to interrupt, and emailing may take a couple of days to get a response, but it’s also made us quite independent learners.”

Ms White said that it can be very challenging to make curriculum changes and that she believes that Interprofessional education can be valuable for everyone involved. The trial of The Far West NSW Extended Nursing Placement Program is the result of a partnership between the Far West Local Health District, Directorate of Nursing and Midwifery, The University of Notre Dame Australia School of Nursing (Sydney), and The University of Sydney, Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery and Broken Hill University Department of Rural Health.

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