05 February 2020

Claire Demeo's second trip to the NT brings new adventures


What an incredible three weeks it has been. Time has flown by since I landed in hot and humid Darwin early January this year, excited to start my new adventure in Nhulunbuy on the Gove peninsula.

During my time in Nhulunbuy, I was privileged to work in the Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation clinics in both Nhulunbuy, and the smaller community of Gunyangara. My training experience allowed me to connect with many Aboriginal people, and work with and learn from incredible nurses, doctors, Aboriginal Health Practitioners, administrative staff, drivers and so many other people all doing an incredible job of improving healthcare outcomes in this remote part of the NT.

This placement made me realise how valuable rural experiences are in demonstrating to students what working remotely is like, the challenges the communities face, but also how rewarding it is to work in the healthcare sector within these communities. Although progress may be slow; every child treated in the prevention of Rheumatic Heart Disease, or women's health check you do helping to monitor and manage both infectious and non-communicable diseases, it provided me with a renewed motivation to come back.

After being in the hospital system in a regional centre for a year, my placement allowed me to see, firsthand, what being a successful doctor is actually like. Often in the hospital, ward rounds are a lot of watching and note-taking, but when you get the chance to spend time with patients, interpret x-rays, do a clinical hand-over, you can identify areas of strength and areas for improvement. The experience certainly motivated me to work harder at becoming a good doctor, with clinical skills to assist patients.

Road to Macassans beachEven more importantly, it was such a privilege to be exposed to a different Aboriginal culture to where I was working doing my previous John Flynn placement on Groote Eylandt. Meeting the Yolngu people, talking about their cultural practices, their language and experiences, I saw firsthand how different Indigenous communities are, despite being within a relatively short geographical distance from each other. The Yolŋu Matha language is incredibly beautiful, and it was fantastic to see how many staff members had learnt words in Yolŋu Matha to better communicate with patients. Dr Phoenix, in particular, had dedicated herself to learning language, and whenever she started speaking in Yolŋu Matha, the patients looked visibly more at ease. It only makes sense that if we as health professionals are working in communities which speak another language other than English, that we learn it.

The fact we have terrible health inequalities was reinforced by this placement, especially concerning infectious disease, as well as chronic non-communicable diseases. I also saw the importance of community engagement in establishing programs & delivering successful programs. Finally, I also realise the importance of language and culture for Aboriginal people, and how vital it is to receive healthcare locally, on country, having permanent healthcare professionals who understand culture and language. A transient workforce is very challenging in providing holistic care which considers culture and community.

Ultimately, I am so grateful to have had this opportunity, learnt so much from every patient and every mentor, and I am very much looking forward to going back for my last John Flynn placement soon.  I am confident that it won't be the last time I head back to this beautiful part of the world. I hope to one day become a permanent healthcare professional who can provide holistic, culturally sensitive medicine to the Nhulunbuy community.

Claire Demeo