Health services in rural areas often fall on the exceptional few. For them, bright city lights can’t compare to the allure of the outback.
Dr Niels Kirsten, a graduate of James Cook University Nursing Science and, more recently, Dentistry, is one of those who prefers the country life to that of the bustling city.
While he’s always wanted to live and work in a rural area, JCU’s courses gave him the necessary skills to bring his services to people in communities like Charters Towers, where Niels currently works.
“There is always a shortage of doctors and nurses in these areas,” Niels said. “As part of the JCU course you have to do a rural and remote placement, where you’re expected to go and work in these areas as an undergraduate, and it sort of opens your eyes up to those areas. You know that there is a shortage, and there are always job positions in those areas, so it networks you for those potential positions.
“I grew up in Townsville and I always knew there was a shortage of health services in rural and remote areas. I also grew up on a property in Ingham. For me, it was what I was used to – living in small rural towns.”
Niels’ wish has come true, and a desire sparked from watching his father, also a dentist, at work was nurtured by a degree at JCU.
“My father was a dentist, he was pretty much the whole reason I wanted to progress further into dentistry,” he said. “I used to go and observe him in his clinic and watch the things he used to do, and it sort of inspired me to go further with my studies. After achieving my first degree in nursing I realised it was possible, so I decided to apply for both medicine and dentistry.
“As a part of the course they teach you the fundamentals of rural and remote health. A big part of nursing and dentistry, was knowing that there was a shortage and how these people are disadvantaged.”
Niels’ placements didn’t effect where he wanted to make his mark, but they did show him just how tough rural communities have it when it comes to health care.
“It didn’t impact where I wanted to practice, but it sort of opened up my eyes more in terms of the shortages of health services, and the disadvantages of living in a regional town,” he said.
Since graduating the situation hasn’t improved, with demand for health services still present, as well as a need to tailor to the tyranny of distance many members of rural communities face.
“My patient numbers are huge,” Niels said. “I’m usually booked in advance at least one or two weeks, and most of my patients are from remote areas, from properties where they have to travel at least four to five hours just to see me.”
“The skills are very much the same as what you’d use in any town, but it’s more about making your service accessible for rural and remote areas. Understanding that people do travel long distances for healthcare services, and trying to accommodate around providing a service that is more accessible.”