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Discovering Australian Nursing
My name is Kingston and I am a 30-year-old ED RN from Seattle, Washington in the United States. Prior to making the big move to the Down Under, I was living a very comfortable life working for a big Level 2 Trauma Center hospital when I was realizing something was missing in my life.
For the past several years, I have always been an avid world traveller. Thanks to the flexible life nursing has always provided me, I’ve been able to take plenty of time off from work to go on solo backpack trips around the globe from Asia to Europe to Central America. But I’ve always wondered what it would be like to actually work and live in a country for a longer period of time.
A friend of mine suggested travel nursing to places where English was the primary language, such as Canada, The U.K., or maybe even Australia. That got me thinking. I’ve always wanted to explore Australia, but felt it would need to be for a time when I had ample time to truly explore the vastness of the country.
Maybe… just maybe… I could work as an RN there? So I looked up Australian nursing opportunities online, and found an agency called Healthcare Australia that worked with international nurses to come over and work all over the country. I submitted an enquiry, and was able to begin the process of having my RN License transferred over with AHPRA and apply for a Working Holiday Visa.
At this point, I was very committed to the idea. So I quit my job back in Washington and right after the beginning of 2020, I arrived to the first city I would work and live in: Melbourne. Since then, I have been making my way around The Land of Oz. I have worked in several hospitals all across the country and now currently working in Katherine in NT on a Rural and Remote contract.
When looking for Rural and Remote contracts is there anything in particular you keep an eye out for?
In most cases, I usually have an idea of at least what territory or town I want to head out to next. Sometimes, I will just enquire about where nurses are needed with the HCA R&R team, and then I would hear about a place I’ve never even thought about working in before. A lot of the time in those instances, my curiosity would get the best of me and I would agree to a short-term contract in those less traveled regions. Sometimes it’s a miss, but a lot of the times I end up really enjoying those experiences.
Between Rural and Remote contracts do you work many shifts with our metro division?
I have worked many metro shifts specifically in Melbourne and Brisbane. I lived in Melbourne for about 6 months when I first arrived to Australia and loved it. The city was a great transition into Australia for me because in a lot of ways it reminded me of a city like Seattle. For me, the weather there was perfect (except when it was really hot during the Summer months) and the lifestyle was enjoyable.
Alas, as the COVID-19 pandemic was causing the city to eventually become the most locked down city in the world, I decided to move out immediately so that I could begin exploring the rest of Australia, and I have been living as a nomad out of my suitcase ever since as I’ve made my way around every Australian Territory with the exception of Tasmania.
After a few rural contracts in NSW, I moved to Northern Territory for a few weeks before making a more permanent move to Brisbane, QLD. There, I worked casual agency shifts for about 10 months before deciding to take on more Rural and Remote contracts in order for me to start exploring the rest of the country.
Do you have any tips for someone new to Australian nursing?
I would say to anyone interested in seeing the areas of Australia that are more untouched and less touristy, R&R nursing is the way to do just that. However, I would definitely advise them to have a very open mind about where it takes you.
Sometimes, you’re primary choice is open and you can start working where you want as easy as pie. Other times, you’re first choice may not be available or ends up getting filled quickly. In those cases, I would always ask myself, “Now what?” The answer is to just ask what else around the region or territory is open. Because there are always open positions all over, choose someplace you’ve never even thought of traveling to before and just go for it.
You’d be surprised how much beauty this country has to offer you in the most unlikely of places. Another tip is to pack light! I have been living out of my suitcase without a car for many months now, and for many that may not be ideal.
If you have a place you’re living in right now, keep the place and keep all your things back home while only bringing the necessities with you in a single backpack. Or you could be smart and just buy a car. Having a car provides you with so much more freedom while traveling from place to place while also giving you the luxury of bringing much more along with you. But if you don’t have a car and don’t want to keep paying rent for an apartment you won’t be living in for months? Then do what I’m doing!
Just know that it is possible to explore Australia while working R&R contracts without a car and a place of residence to store your things, because I am doing that right now. There are greyhound buses and remote airports to make traveling to these areas possible. In the worst case scenario, I just rent a car.
Open-mindedness & flexibility is key when you’re doing R&R nursing. At times, life will be uncomfortable, but that’s the price for adventure, am I right? Once you’ve gotten your fill on wandering to these places out in the middle of nowhere, you can go back to the metro nursing life and pick up where you left off.
I can see you’ve got an eye for photography. Is that your inspiration to go find new and exciting locations to work?
I have always enjoyed photography ever since I decided to travel on my own. The incentive was to capture the beautiful moments I had the privilege to experience in order to share the experience with my family and friends back home who did not have the opportunities or means to travel the world as I did. The goal was always to capture dynamic photographs that either told a story or showcased the environment I was in. So I am always carrying around my camera equipment wherever I go. You just never know when you will come across something so spectacular that you just have to capture a shot.
But by no means is it the ultimate inspiration for where I choose to work next. I don’t always choose to work someplace because I think there will be something amazing to photograph there. Sometime I just pick where I will work next just because it makes the most logistical sense for my travels, or maybe the pay is really good, or perhaps just for the experience. For more travel inspiration, anyone could follow me on my Instagram where you can join me on my travels around the world, not just Australia.
Last year I even managed to backpack through New Zealand! Exploring Australia’s close cousin has always been on my bucket list, and it was made possible by being allowed to work so flexibly in this country. I spent an entire month exploring both the South Island and North Island, and took so many amazing photographs! And before I moved to Australia in 2020, I went to Germany, China, Hong Kong, and then spent New Years in Malaysia, so I have some pretty incredible shots from there for anyone who’s never been.
Follow me on Instagram @thekingstonlee for more travel photography as I explore more of Australia and who knows where else in the future.
What was the facility and team like at this particular facility?
As you can see, I tend to prefer the larger base hospitals, because I am originally trained in a large city hospital with all of the resources and specialties you could ever need. I enjoyed these facilities particularly because they have more to offer patients rather than in a typical small rural hospital where you end up always having to transfer out any patients who are critically ill or in need of a certain specialty. The team is ultimately what’s most important to me. I enjoy placement where the team sees value in my experience and are reliable teammates.
Overall, a positive team environment makes the workplace environment so much more enjoyable. Otherwise, every rural and remote placement has had very wonderful people working there who have made my experience an overall positive one. I just prefer bigger hospitals. Many nurses do enjoy the smaller or rural hospitals, though. It’s all about preference and what your nursing background is, really.
What would the average day look like for you?
In Katherine, for example, I would work many shifts in a row, and then have a decently long weekend off to just relax at my own unit (sometimes you will get a really nice nursing accommodation where you have a small townhouse to yourself). Over the weekend I might go out for brunch with other co-workers, go out for drinks at the popular bar down here, or hitch a ride with a group to go out and explore the nature in the area. Just this last weekend, a few of my co-workers took me out to a local favorite swimming hole near Katherine Gorge. The day was perfect. I brought along a pool float and beer with me, and just spent the day relaxing in this NT heat.
That’s the kind of work-life balance you can expect at many of these R&R placements. I remember when I was working in Mossman, the housemates I lived with would have a lot of weekends off with me. So we would grab drinks in Port Douglas, or go swimming at Mossman Gorge, or have a few beers around a small bonfire in our backyard at night. In Mackay, with the doctors I lived with in the hospital accommodation (it was a 3-bedroom townhouse), we would just go out to the restaurants in the town center at night, and one morning I went to Cape Hillsborough to watch the sunrise with the local beach wallabies. It’s moments like those that you’ll definitely remember for the rest of your life.
Any spots/attractions that ‘only the locals know’ that you would like to share?
Haha YES, I just talked about this famous Katherine swimming hole I never even heard about that the mates out here took me to last weekend. It is called Southern Rockhole in the Nitmiluk National Park. The locals here call it SoRo, and it is a blast! We went out there early in the morning, did the 4km hike there, and had this beautiful waterfall all to ourselves before catching the boat ride back to the visitor center. I would absolutely recommend it for anyone coming out here to Katherine.
If you’re ever working at Mossman, go to the Mossman Gorge. It is an amazing place to go for a swim on a hot day, but the secret is… staff at the Mossman Hospital get to go in for free! That’s why we went out there so often. Just make sure to show your ID badge. If you’re around Innisfail, QLD, make sure to make a trip out to the incredible Windin Falls. Disclaimer, do not go if you don’t enjoy long hikes or have a fear of heights! Taking a dip at the top of this tremendous waterfall is extremely dangerous, but totally worth it for the avid adventurers!
Do you believe that social media and the Facebook group play a role in the Australian Nursing experience?
Absolutely! It’s the best way to share your stories and inspire others to go somewhere you haven’t been, yet! When I see someone post a photo of a place and it looks amazing, I add that to my list of where I want to go next.
What’s the plan for you after Katherine?
I am desperately trying to go back to Western Australia, because there is so much of WA I haven’t seen yet. However, as many of you may know, the WA border will NOT be re-opening on February 5th as previously planned. So, as of now, I am not sure what my plans will be haha. That is the true backpackers life, though! Not everything always goes as planned, and sometime you just have to go wherever the wind takes you.
Maybe HCA will find a miraculous way of allowing me to come work in WA. I guess only time will tell. After traveling through WA? I’m planning on spending some time in South Australia and then possibly either move back to Melbourne or make a new life for myself in Sydney.
It turns out Western Australia has finally re-opened! I was able to come over and just went on the most incredible road trip along the northern coast of WA! And now I am currently heading back to work, but this time in Derby, WA! Massive thanks to the HCA Rural & Remote team for helping me find work during this massive healthcare worker shortage in this region of Australia. Please, if you have the experience and are up for the challenge, come on over and work in the various rural and remote hospitals in this beautifully untouched part of Australia. We need your help!
— Kingston L