Heading out to Kalkarindji from Katherine, the country progressively got drier and drier; last year’s wet barely arrived and each creek was drier than the last. Dr Karen, my mentor and one of the two GP’s who alternated at the clinic, had never seen the Victoria River bone-dry in her 9 years of working in Kalkarindji. The parched nature of the landscape matched only perhaps by the air – a fan forced oven with the average temperature never getting below 27 degrees and regularly above 45. Even the locals were finding the heat oppressive, and there was real concern as to whether this year would see another poor wet season.
In spite of the heat, it was great to spend a couple of weeks in Kalkarindji at the clinic run by the Katherine West Health Board. After working across the East Kimberley for a couple of years before moving to the east coast, it felt good to be out of the city and back in community. Especially as I had the opportunity to learn about the reality of working in a remote clinic where the nearest major hospital is almost fours hours away by the time aeromedical retrieval is dispatched, the patient collected, and then flown to Darwin.
Seeing how the Aboriginal health practitioners, remote area nurses and doctors - including the GP in the clinic, visiting specialists, and the District Medical Officer available via Telehealth, worked together to manage chronic diseases and acute presentations made a particular impression on me. Over the course of the couple of weeks I was able to join clinical staff in their review and management of patients with kidney failure, liver disease, skin infections, burns, rheumatic heart disease, and traumatic fractures amongst other presentations. I also had the opportunity to see how programs such as the childhood iron program and antenatal clinic, and the respite dialysis unit run by Purple House worked in remote communities.
As with any student placement you only get out what you put in, so being willing to help out where you can, and staying after hours if there’s a patient awaiting retrieval or coming into the clinic will maximise the learning opportunities. Likewise, making the most of weekend bush walks, impromptu dinners with the clinic staff, and attending community events enriched my experience and desire to return next year. A big thanks to NTGPE, the KWHB, and the JFPP - can’t wait to see everyone again next year!