Written By

Nicolette Ward


College of Healthcare Sciences

Publish Date

23 February 2022

Related Study Areas

Find your place through practical placements

As graduation inches closer, third-year JCU nursing student Sharon Groves reflects on her study journey, the placements she has experienced, and her passion for rural, remote and regional women’s health.

What were your placements like throughout your JCU Nursing degree?

I did four placements in total at Townsville University Hospital and they have all been phenomenal and timed perfectly to put what I have been learning straight into practice. My placements there have included the renal, respiratory and gastroenterology ward; oncology unit; day surgery/planned procedures unit; and in theatre for obstetrics and gynaecology where I am currently. It feels like I’ve gone full circle through the different aspects of hospital patient care.

But it was my rural placement in the Central West region that I did at the beginning of this year that was an amazing experience for so many reasons. I spent four weeks at the multi-purpose hospital in Barcaldine, and then two weeks as a flight nurse with the Royal Flying Doctors Service. I saw more of North Queensland in those two weeks than I have in the last ten years, albeit from 30,000 feet away.

Sharon during her placement with the Royal Flying Doctors Service.

Supplied by Sharon Groves.

A holistic approach to healthcare

What about your rural, remote and regional (RRR) women’s health interests?

One of the things that became very obvious to me while I was on placement was that women's health in rural and remote areas is almost regarded as a luxury. There is often reduced availability of medical care specifically aimed at women, including less access to female GPs who can be harder to come across in those remote places.

The women themselves who live out in these areas often have an outdoors physical lifestyle that makes them as ‘tough as nails’, meaning that they tend to not pay much attention to their health even when they really should. The emphasis on their own self-care is not so pronounced; they are busy raising cattle and wrestling bulls, or running a farm, for example. There is also a significant indigenous female population who tend to not want to make a fuss, and who do not feel comfortable talking about their health problems to a stranger.

And of course, there are also issues of having access to transport. You may have to travel hundreds of kilometres into town to see a healthcare professional or try your luck catching a bus that may not even go anywhere near your home. If the model of medical care is to only be available for appointments on, say, Tuesday mornings at 8am, then that model is not serving anyone particularly well, especially when women might also have to arrange for childcare and things like that.

So, there is still a lot about women's health in these rural and remote areas that needs to be addressed. It needs to be both more equitable and culturally aware. Health professionals can be at risk of becoming very focused on the clinical aspects of their work, but I am a firm believer that the whole person is what is most important, and not just what their medical problem or issue is. That is, the social and emotional needs of a patient also need to be addressed in addition to their health concerns.

Where do you see yourself after graduating?

I want to stay in the rural and remote regions, ideally going back to the Central West region where I did my placement which includes the outback towns of Longreach, Barcaldine and Blackall.

I’ve applied for the Queensland Health graduate program for that region, which is a 12-month supported program. But regardless of whether I get into that graduate program or not, I'm still going to graduate as a Registered Nurse and nobody can take that away from me. I can still apply for registered nurse positions in GP clinics and other primary health services, and after six months experience then join the casual pool of hospital-based nursing.

A close up of sharp medical devices used in theatre on one of Sharon's placements.
Sharon in her graduation gown holding her certificate for the Graduate Diploma of Higher Education.
Left: Sharps used in theatre during one of Sharon’s placements. Right: Sharon holding her graduation certificate from the Diploma of Higher Education.

The best is out West

What makes you attracted to developing your career in rural and remote regions?

I absolutely love the community spirit you can feel in these places. Within three days of arriving in Blackall, I was being greeted in the street by name; It’s the kind of place where the person you treat today might be serving you fish and chips tomorrow! As soon as I moved in, our neighbour was bringing over scones and pumpkins and I would then bring over pumpkin soup in return.

There's also so much opportunity in a rural or remote setting to gain more clinical skills, just out of necessity. Whereas in a major tertiary hospital, for example, if you want blood drawn or a patient needs a cannula, you call on the phlebotomist. But in a rural setting, the nurse gets the patient ready for whatever’s needed.

When you're in a rural setting, you're dealing with so many different presentations, with patients from the entire lifespan. While on a rural placement the oldest person I treated was 99 years old and then two hours after that I was looking after a six-month old baby. And then the next day, we've got a guy that's come off his quad bike and is admitted to emergency!

You only get to be exposed to that kind of variety when you are in a rural or remote setting. As a result, it’s possible to progress to a clinical nurse role much faster. You get to call on all of your skills and knowledge, which keeps your brain constantly critically thinking. As the saying goes, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’.

I also really appreciated having more of an all-rounder role within the hospital healthcare team. I felt totally embraced as a valuable member of the team and was encouraged to participate in every aspect of a patient’s care. In a smaller team, you really rely on each other and are in constant communication with everyone. The team spirit feels almost like a family; all of the hospital staff would often get together for a barbecue or meet up for trivia night at the pub.

What are you most proud of?

Well, I’m 48, I’ve raised two children who are now young adults, and I am on track to graduate from my nursing degree at the end of this year despite a pandemic happening!

Unlike a lot of the other nursing schools, we were still able to complete all of our placements, with our practical clinics also still going ahead. The disruptions from the Covid-19 lockdown last year meant we ended up having back-to-back four solid days of hands-on workshops just after the lockdown ended, and then straight after that we started our placements. Exams also had to be delayed which meant that, for my second year of studies, we didn't really have any downtime because we were either studying, on placement or sitting our exams!

Surviving student life

What are your tips for surviving the stress of university life?

"What has helped me is not being backward in coming forward. What I mean by that is, it can be really helpful to be aware of when you need to ask for help or when you are feeling uncertain of your capabilities, and not being afraid to admit that you might need a little bit of reassurance or support."

JCU nursing student Sharon Groves

The nursing subject coordinators and year coordinators, as well as the nursing student mentors, are there for you to reach out to when you need. Being a part of the JCU Nursing and Midwifery Society also helped keep me socially in touch with fellow students.

There are also three things that I do religiously to manage my stress. Firstly, early on in my degree I reached out to a lecturer and asked her to be my professional mentor. She has been my absolute rock. She's the person at 3am that I can send an email to, and who helps me with any query I might be having.

Secondly, I make it a golden rule to ‘down tools’ on Sunday afternoons which is when I do the things around the home that make me feel good, whether that be doing cross stitch or crochet or binge watching a TV series.

And thirdly, I'm also a big fan of journaling, especially when I’m on placement. You could call it reflective practice, but basically I just write whatever I am feeling. The important thing is that it comes out, and once it's out, I close the book. Then maybe a day or two later, I might open it up and have a read and by then I would have gotten rid of my fuzzy head and can understand why I was feeling that way. I can put my feelings of being uncomfortable or disheartened into perspective, and instead remind myself that I’m still learning, I’ve still got a long way to go but that at least I’m getting there. The real danger is not believing in your abilities and then giving up or dropping out.

What's your advice to someone thinking about studying Nursing at JCU?

What have you got to lose? If you're thinking about it, then that desire is already there. I think that the biggest injustice you can do to yourself is to sell yourself short. To say, I can't do this because somebody else doesn't think I can, or because you doubt yourself. Look at it the other way. You might be phenomenal. You might be amazing. It might be the best decision you ever made, like it has been for me.

It’s also important to realise that it is never too late to start. At the age of 45, I literally woke up one day and thought to myself ‘why have I not become a nurse yet’? The next day I resigned from my job and enrolled in JCU’s Diploma of Higher Education as a pathway to then study nursing.

Nursing was something that had always been in the back of mind but life, having kids, paying bills etc. got in the way. But then I realised those were all just excuses. Even if by starting the journey you discover that nursing is not quite right for you, the JCU team can still help you figure out more clearly what career is right for you. Everyone here just wants you to succeed no matter what you decide to do.

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