The contrast between Australia and the USA
When it came to rural medicine, there were similarities to rural Australia, yet startling differences were also present.
Health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and arthritis were common in both Australia and the United States. In the frigid climate, cases of the common cold and frostbite were more apparent. Differences in rural medicine were significant in the access to healthcare facilities and the costs associated with seeking health care. Unlike rural communities in Australia, much to my surprise, Harvey was extremely well-equipped, with a hospital and three GP clinics to serve the community of fewer than 2,000 residents. Dr Nyhus also shared stories of patients who accumulated bills of $70,000 for emergency presentations. Ironically, with the abundance of healthcare services available to the residents of Harvey, these facilities became inaccessible due to the substantial costs associated with seeking healthcare.
Every weekend was filled with wonderful different activities. On two occasions, we travelled to Dr Nyhus’ family lake house in Minnesota. Despite the four-hour journey, the breathtaking views of the icy lake never failed to revive our spirits. Dr Nyhus’ family was very welcoming; they also invited me to their son’s graduation, Christmas lunches and dinners. I was able to truly indulge in the North Dakotan culture, I went sledding in the dream-like snow, flying in the picturesque sunsets, hunting in the fields of sword-like cattails and clay shooting, which left me with a painful souvenir - a big blue beginners’ bruise.
For a girl who grew up building scarecrows with sticks, the opportunity to build a snowman out of cold, crunchy snow was a whole new delight. My fondest memory was one wintry night when the temperature was ‘warm’ around -7°C and we chose to relax in a hot tub while the snowfall peacefully became one with the hot steam. In hindsight, I can’t believe I forgot to pack my swimmers!
One month in the North Dakota winter was so long yet so short. I immersed myself in the loving community and the rural medicine I was so eager to practice, but I could easily spend another month with the incredible people I met.
A core element of my life has been a constant search for new experiences that challenge me mentally, physically and emotionally. This thirst for new adventures has most definitely broadened my horizons as it has allowed me to gain a more holistic and global perspective on rural healthcare. Although the young farm girl in me felt uneasy when packing her boots and Tim Tams to share, her worries were quickly swept away by the warm hugs and love she received. Needless to say, I will forever long to sit in front of the fireplace with the Nyhus family and a hot chocolate warming my hands.