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Nikole’s Travel Nursing Adventure
What inspired you to get into Travel Nursing?
I’ve just celebrated my one-year anniversary as a rural and remote nurse for HCA. I had spent 5-6 years previously in upper management level roles in healthcare/disability, and before that I was an ICU nurse.
I guess you could say that my son Noah inspired me (if you call telling me to go do it before I “get too old” inspiring!). All jokes aside, I had a pretty serious health scare a couple of years ago, and I was looking to leave a stressful job. My wonderful children were more than supportive of me running away from home to follow a dream I’ve had for a long time to do R & R nursing.
Talk us through your travels, what’ve you done so far and where are you planning to go?
I started out in WA a year ago, and have worked continuously in WA up until now. I’ve done contracts in Carnarvon, Burringurrah Aboriginal Community, Meekatharra, Three Springs, Bruce Rock and most recently Fitzroy Crossing.
When I look at the map of where I’ve been, I feel like I’ve now gone half away around the country. I’ve started calling it the “accidental lap” because having just arrived in the NT, I feel like I could easily work here for a while and then head over to QLD, and then eventually back down the coast via NSW and back home to VIC! My next contract is here in the NT as a team leader at Howard Springs Quarantine facility. After that, who knows! I might stay around the NT for a bit, and then continue on my accidental lap.
Would you return to any of the locations you’ve already been?
I can honestly say that I would return to almost every location. In some places it’s the staff that holds the appeal, and in others it’s the gorgeous scenery or the community.
I will confess that Fitzroy Crossing does hold a little piece of my heart now. The staff are amazing, the scenery is breathtaking, and Wild Life West animal rescue is a great place to volunteer on days off.
How do you find being away from VIC and travel nursing?
I miss my kids of course, but they are grown and constantly telling me that they are, “living their best lives,” while Mum is away!! I think that’s code for thanks for paying the bills but not actually being here haha!
Obviously the Covid-19 situation in VIC is concerning, and I do have days where I feel guilty for not being there, especially as an ICU nurse. But then I remind myself of the good I feel I’ve done, helping out at the Broome vaxathon for instance, or assisting to vaccinate vulnerable communities, and being able to use my critical care skills in some pretty rural areas.
You’ve got an awesome sense of humour. Share with us your 2 cents about the importance of keeping things fun in remote nursing.
Rural and remote nursing is like being in another world. A sense of humour is absolutely mandatory. I highly recommend laughing at yourself at least once a day, it helps keep your sanity, and makes you a nicer person to be around. There are some absurd situations you can find yourself in, and you really have to be able to laugh at yourself or the situation.
As an agency nurse, you need to think of yourself as a bit of a relief pitcher. You’re there to ease short staffing, assist where you can, and generally lighten the load of some really overworked and stressed staff. If you can have a laugh in the process, all the better.
How’s your experience been with your consultant, Sarah and the rest of the Rural and Remote team at HCA?
Sarah Bullock has been my saving grace on many occasions. The support I receive is phenomenal, and really makes a difference when you’re out in rural areas. I feel incredibly supported, and knowing that Sarah is just a phone call away has helped me through some challenging times.
Not only does she look after me work wise, but she sends me travel tips when I’m headed to a new area, and even gave me the low down on the best hairdresser in Darwin. You can’t beat that. I feel like she’s a friend as well as my consultant.
What’s been your favourite placement so far?
I would have to say that my last contract in Fitzroy Crossing has been my favourite. The staff are amazing, and the surrounding countryside is spectacular. I highly recommend heading out to Geiki Gorge if you ever get the chance. And FYI, the ranger that runs the boat tours of the Gorge is an ex nurse, so nurses and doctors are free!
What did your average (working) day look like?
At Fitzroy Crossing, my role was Clinical Nurse Manager of the Community health team. This was a new experience for me, having worked mainly in the hospital setting. It was wonderful to work with such dedicated staff. A typical day would start at around 0700, answering emails and getting paperwork done before the staff arrived at 0800. Some days it was VC meetings and management stuff, and other days it was assisting in the COVID clinic if they were busy, or headed out as a RAN if we were short-staffed at one of the clinics. You need to be a jack of all trades. Kind of like the Swiss Army knife of nurses.
I learned so much from the staff, from midwifery to sexual health and child health nursing. It was a great opportunity to learn some new skills. When I do a management contract, I firmly believe in letting the staff do what they do best. My job was too just to ensure they have what they need to do their job.
A big focus of my Fitzroy Crossing contract was on recruitment. I managed to fill 4 vacancies in my 8 weeks there, so I left feeling like I had made at least a small impact.
What has been your absolute favourite moment of your travels so far?
My favourite moment so far would be the drive from Carnarvon to Burringurrah Aboriginal Community. I had arrived in Perth from Melbourne just three weeks earlier, and two of those weeks I was in quarantine.
I had been in the role of After Hours manager for a week when they had an urgent staffing shortfall out at the community, and I was asked if I wanted to go. One minute I was at home in Melbourne, and the next I was driving through outback WA with nothing but blue sky and red dirt. That’s a feeling I won’t forget in a hurry. I’ll be forever grateful for that experience.
Any tips for someone keen to get into Rural and Remote work?
If you are brand new to rural and remote then the HCA pathway to remote nursing is a great place to start. There are also lots of online short courses you can do to upskill as you go. I loved being able to do some emergency management stuff online, and the Immunisation course.
Once you’re ready to go, it’s all about preparation. Speaking from experience, look at what you’re packing, and then put half of it back. You will online shop, you will collect souvenirs and gifts in your travels. Also, you will not need three pairs of jeans if you’re headed to the Top End. Yes, even in winter. Do your research, but not too much, and don’t let one person’s opinion sway you from what could be an amazing experience.
Get to know where you’re headed. The first thing I do when I sign a new contract is to join the local Facebook groups for that area. It gives a great feel for the town you’re headed to.
As any Rural and remote nurse will tell you, if you can take linen or even your pillow, it can make all the difference. And so can one good sharp knife. Be aware of luggage limits. Some rural limits are as low as 15kgs, so once again, you don’t need half of what you think you will.
Are there any other cool spots or advice you would like to share to wrap up?
I’m lucky enough to be travelling in my own car, so getting out and about is easy for me. Rural and remote nursing is literally made for adventuring, so makes sure you get out and explore.
Talk to other nurses, other staff at your facility. There’s always someone headed somewhere. You don’t need to be in some exotic location to see cool stuff. The Wheat belt is full of wild flowers this time of year, and you have the stunning Wave Rock to go and visit, as well as Magic Lake. Always be on the lookout for hidden gems!!
– Nikki G
HCA R&R A&E RN