Dirt Roads, Dogs and Sunsets – Life of Remote Area Nursing

We chat with Corrine Knack who is currently a Remote Area Nurse in the NT. Before you read on go join our exclusive PRIVATE FB Group ‘Rural & Remote Nursing | The Australian Outback‘ to ask questions and network with other like-minded nurses, midwives and students.

My name is Corrine and I’m a Remote Area Nurse currently working in the Wurrumiyanga, Tiwi Islands, NT. I grew up in Townsville, QLD and moved to the NT for my nursing graduation year and haven’t looked back. I’ve worked mostly for Northern Territory Government and briefly for WACHS. On my days off you’ll find me hitting the dirt road, out in nature with my dog Wandi, and trying to find the best place to watch the sunset.

Why and how you got into Remote Area Nursing

Truly, I loathe the rat race. I love working in gorgeous places I can be proud of; where I can easily find a slice of paradise to myself. I also find working along Indigenous Australians in the Top End- so rewarding and special as well as rural folk who are more laid back and generally more appreciative of a helping hand.
I’ve never worked metro and could never imagine doing it. Having to travel long distances/times to work and being a little fish in the proverbial big ocean is such a horrible and daunting concept. I love working regional and remote. Besides, there’s certainly some magic in the air up here and I love it!

I got sick of just patching up people and sending them on them back on their way, such as what I perceived in EDs. I wanted to go to the places where I can assist to change health outcomes and trajectories.

What’s it like travel nursing with your dog?

I have a beloved 4×4 called Roxy who’s been through it all and recently I adopted a camp dog called Wandi who is the sparkle in my eye.
However, I am without, but it’s certainly harder finding a fella when you live permanently on a remote island!! (Also- research the Kimberley ratio )

Here’s a tip- working remote would be so much better and less isolating with a partner/companion.

Can you tell us a bit about where you have worked?

I started in the Emergency Department at Darwin Hospital. Darwin ED is pretty full on, but it was a great learning experience. I moved on to the wards of Royal Darwin and stayed there to build on my experiences. Just as COVID-19 broke out I moved to Kununurra, WA where I spent a year and loved it. Then for some reason still unknown to me I left paradise to move to Alice Springs ED. From there I re-learnt ED skills and then applied to the Northern Territory Transition to Remote Program and was shifted to Wurrumiyanga. That’s where I am now.

Any places really stood out?

Visually was Kununurra- it’s stunning. It’s a little town nestled on the wrong side of the NT/WA border. I was there with a fantastic group of people it was magical heading out to the plethora of secret waterholes with mates. I was there during when WA was shut off to the rest of the world and therefore had the pleasure of having heaps of incredible places to ourselves. I’m yet to go a day where I don’t think about that place.

I still think Darwin Hospital ED was a fantastic base to start my career. It’s chaotic, under-resourced , it’s very unique but you learn so much. Almost every day you’d treat sepsis or a trauma victim but a NOF?..very rare. It’s very Darwin and very Northern Territory. It was a very challenging place but I’m still grateful I started my career there and learnt those lessons.

Biggest challenges of Remote Area Nursing?

I grew up in a regional area so I found working in smaller places quite easy, but I know that some nurses that come from the ‘bigger smokes’ are always so shocked at the low resources or health conditions here. The number of times I’ve had to describe RHD or scabies to them is countless!
I hinted at it before but the disparity in health is insane up here. Most ailments flow directly from low socio-economic/ low health literacy or poor access to health care. That’s the thing that shocks me and still does. It’s very sad and that’s why I want to work out here to help fix it.

Just to re-iterate I currently work remote, not rural/regional. Remote is extremely isolating, you really need good friend/familial connections to get through plus good mental health strategies (I you CRANA+ crisis support line). I really can’t stress this enough. I do not recommend going remote without some rural exposure first- not because it’s awful, just to make sure it’s right for you.

Best things / memorable moments about R&R??

I’m very happy working in Wurrumiyanga. As a job I’ve never had it better, as a RAN. You work intimately with people on their own terms, on their land, their values and build that relationship and trust and the community recognising you as a reliable and trustworthy asset.

Being able to have a conversation/laugh and connecting with the Tiwi is just the best- they have a distinct culture and it’s special to be surrounded by it. It’s so rewarding when you work with someone in primary health care to help them to be the best they can be health-wise and encouraging when it comes to talking about health. So that-working WITH the community is such a highlight.

Otherwise living in incredible places like Kununurra, Darwin and Alice- places where people save up thousands of $$ to visit, places that you just visit on your days off.
Having experiences that wouldn’t be possible without working rurally like having beautiful
and incredible places such as Purnululu, Florence Falls, Lake Argyle and Uluru it aaallll to yourself is a massive pull, again. I love it.

The fact that you can finish work, grab your mates, chuck the swags in the back and overnight camp at incredible places-then rock back up to work for a late shift!! I have so many memories of these spontaneous and unforgettable trips which I’ll treasure until I pass on. Ahhh the memories are endless.

Top 5 pieces of advice for a nurse going rural and remote?

I’ll pick 5 things that specifically relate to being a Remote Area Nurse:

  1. For the love of God please educate yourself on Indigenous culture. Understand the impact on colonialism on the current day. I’m not an expert on Indigenous culture myself however the amount of times I’ve had to inform people about The Stolen Generations and The Frontier Wars, especially co-workers who have no idea (despite working in areas that are closely linked to those events), is ridiculous. It drives me up the wall!
  2. Prioritise your mental well-being. Know what keeps you happy and fulfilled and more importantly be aware of what the signs are of stress and burnout. It WILL hit you like a ton of bricks if you’re not ready. If things are too much remember that it’s okay to say you’re not okay and take that FOIL and go to Darwin/Alice/Broome. Pick up that phone when you need to, you’re not a hero and no one expects you to be in a challenging environment. It’s the age old saying- you cannot fill another’s cup whilst yours is empty.
  3. Find that nursing role model, a person that inspires you or that you aspire to be (even if it’s just a part). Get in their ear and learn from them. Their experiences, wisdom and tips. You aren’t the first person to walk this path, having someone to bounce off and refer from is fantastic.
  4. Don’t expect to re-invent the wheel. A good friend of mine has a good analogy- the new nurse that arrives and pisses in every corner. We in rural/remote all have our own memory if we’ve been there before. That nurse that rocks up and is arrogant enough to think that they can arrange the furnite- don’t be this person, sit back, observe, learn and offer advice if asked. That’s how you survive.
  5. Know your worth. Although I still recommend one to stay humble, everyone brings a special element to the team in remote. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Stand up for your rights when you need to and advocate for the patient when you need to. Remote is working as a team intimately.

Advice for picking an agency/employer?

I work with NTG and do plan to stay here. However I am watching the next Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA). The NT nurses’ union is currently negotiating verrrrryy carefully…..

Any final things you want to talk about.

If you’re thinking of giving rural/ remote a go, do some courses, talk around and scour out a place that’s right for you. You won’t regret it. Life is meant to be lived and there’s a lot of living to be done out here!