Nursing in the Australian Outback

We chat with Kingston Lee, an RN from the USA who has dipped his feet into the world of nursing in the Australian Outback. If you’ve ever thought of Rural and Remote nursing then you MUST READ on.

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My name is Kingston Lee, and I am originally from Seattle, Washington in the United States. I moved to Australia end of 2019 and have been living here since. I am a coffee addict, a photographer, a world traveller, and a Trauma/Emergency Department Nurse who decided to give nursing in Australia a try.

Why and how you got into R&R nursing?

I was actually based in Melbourne at the time I initially moved over from the States to Australia. At the time, I was only interested in working casually in Australia’s Metro areas due to convenience and work flexibility. Honestly, life as a Registered Nurse in the city worked well for me. I worked only when I needed to, and I was able to take time off from work on my own schedule.

However, I like to think the COVID Pandemic has given me the reasons to start taking on contracts outside in the rural and remote regions of Australia. Travelling around the country was not looking to be as easy of a task to do anymore once the world was facing such a huge pandemic. The country was taking all of the necessary precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID, which entailed travel restrictions, border closures, limited reasons to be outside, and so on.

Due to this, I took the very first step into R&R nursing by packing my bags and leaving Melbourne as soon as I could before the territory went into lockdown again. Without much thought or time to plan, I took a job in Wagga Wagga at their base hospital, and that would be my very first time working somewhere outside of the major city… EVER. Even when I was a Registered Nurse in Seattle, I only ever worked in the large city hospitals.

I was a bit anxious at first, but the one R&R hospital created a path to another, then another. And before I knew it, I had made it around the entire country working in various R&R settings. Sometimes life works out the way it was intended to, doesn’t it?

Where you have worked?

I have worked from major city hospitals in Melbourne and Brisbane to base hospitals in Mackay, QLD and Wagga Wagga, NSW to small regional hospitals such as in Katherine, NT and Derby, WA to even smaller healthcare settings such as in Mossman, QLD and Boorowa, NSW. It has been such a range of different settings.

One day I’m working somewhere with 20+ acute beds and 4 resus bays and specialists and pathology and just every resource you could need to another day working somewhere without an overnight doctor and no imaging and no way to run labs unless it’s with an iSTAT. Every one of the places I’ve worked as an Emergency Department Nurse, I took away something new, or thought to myself, “Well, that’s new.”

Places that stood out

Every place I’ve worked stands out in their own unique way. Every area of Australia I was introduced to as a travel nurse through working in Rural and Remote hospitals was so vastly different in natural beauty, things to do in town, the culture, the lifestyle, the weather, everything!

Katherine was in the dry, red heart of the outback.

Mossman was in the lush, green Daintree Rainforest.

Boorowa had peaceful farmlands and cold nights.

Derby was rich with Aboriginal culture and a few hours away from stunning beaches in Broome. I cannot possibly list out every place that stood out to me, it would take too long!

Biggest challenges

The biggest challenge with R&R nursing to me will always be getting from A to B. Getting there is riddled with all sorts of problems, confusion, roadblocks, and unpredictable circumstances. First of all, some of the places you are being sent to are somewhere not very many people tend to go. So it is not always a simple flight over and you’re all settled in. Sometimes you’re looking at quite an excursion to get out there.

We’re talking multiple flights, renting a car and going on a long drive, trains, greyhound buses, baggage transfers, overnight stays in one town just to get up early and catch your next mode of transport to the town you’re supposed to be in. If you’re like me and living out of your suitcase, you’re doing all this while lugging around multiple heavy bags in sometimes excruciating heat and absolute discomfort. Travel nursing especially in R&R regions is not easy, or even comfortable at times.

But the experience always turns out to be worth it. Also, make sure you have all of the necessary paperwork done, get all of your requirements completed before the contract starts, and ensure you have done the boring onboarding stuff before you even start thinking about going on the journey to your next contract. I’ve learned this the hard way. Something that shocked me when working in R&R settings is just the sheer amount of almost nothing to are introduced to. Coming from a city background, I’m used to ordering groceries from my phone and someone just delivers it to my doorstep.

You know what I mean? I could call up my friends and meet up with them at a bar still open at midnight. I can drop off my clothes at a dry cleaner and pick it up over the weekend, all cleaned and ironed. I am always in awe of just how much I have to adjust my lifestyle when moving to areas with a few select coffee shops only open at certain times of the day or week. Sometimes I lived in a town where I had to walk a mile each way just to get groceries.

But in the end, the people you meet and fun you create while you’re there really puts into perspective that you don’t need to live in the big city to have an amazing time. Also, I was at first pretty shocked at how limited resources can be while working in a R&R hospital setting. It was something that took a while to get used to at first, but now I expect it when I go to new future jobs elsewhere.

Memorable moments

There are so many. Where do I even start? I remember one day, for my birthday, I was working in Katherine and very sad I could not spend the day with family and friends at home. But my fellow co-workers took me out to a lovely restaurant for dinner and then took me out the Katherine’s finest nightlife choices… which were literally just three different bars (one was actually a golf course restaurant) where all the locals went to get pissed drunk. That was a truly epic night, and we stayed out the entire night. One of the bars had live karaoke, which is my favourite thing in the entire world.

I sang I Want It That Way by The Backstreet Boys, and I was thoroughly impressed the crowd knew all the words! For anyone out there deciding whether working out in Katherine is worth it, I am telling you it is a great time out there. One time in Derby, WA, a few of us went out to the dry fields for sunset and that was absolutely incredible. Something as simple as a sunset just really gets to you while you’re out there.

While I was living out in Mossman, my housemates and I would go swimming at the Mossman Gorge and go drive out to Port Douglas for drinks, then at night we would have a bonfire in our backyard. We would just drink more beers and listen to music until we called it a night. There are so many more memorable moments, but these definitely stood out to me at the time of typing this.

5 pieces of advice

It is both flattering and hilarious anyone would ever ask me for advice, simply because I hardly ever know what I am doing half the time. But I think that’s the way to go into this type of travel nurse experience. Not knowing what to expect is how you get the most out of the time being out in the R&R setting… in my opinion, at least. I will try my best to bestow some wisdom to anyone out there reading this who is interested in seeing the country while working as a nurse in the R&R healthcare setting.

  • Plan out your entire adventure and ensure things will be taken care of while you’re away from home (i.e. rent, your pets, family, mail, ect.).
  • Be flexible. Plans don’t always work out as you want them to, so have backup plan and just enjoy the spontaneity of the whole experience.
  • Work hard, be positive, and do your best. You make friends this way, and good words about you will only help with future contracts.
  • Get a travel credit card. Collect those points while you’re travelling around! They add up!
  • Pack light. I personally cannot, because I have been living out of my suitcase and it is a struggle during my travels. If you are fortunate enough to just bring a single backpack on your travels, do it. Or if you have a big car with a lot of space, keep your things in your car and just drive to your next destination!

Agencies and Employers

Pick one that offers the things most important to you. Ask around different agencies/employers what their pay rate is like, what benefits they offer, what the hiring process requires, and so on. Do your research and use online resources. Every agency is different, so really think hard when making these kinds of decisions.

Any final things you want to talk about

Australia is such a beautiful country. I am so thankful to be able to do what I do and see places I otherwise never would have if it were not for travel nursing. If you want some travel inspiration, you can follow me on Instagram @thekingstonlee. That’s where I post travel and lifestyle photos from my adventures around the world, including all of the places I visited while exploring Australia as a travel RN. Thank you for reading! And good luck on all of your nursing travel adventures!