Alex reflects on her last Northern Territory placement!

NT - Mapuru Airstrip

NT - Mapuru Airstrip

Flying across Arnhem Land for the first time gave me a bird’s eye view of the remoteness I was about to find myself in.

Three and half thousand kilometers from home and bound for Galiwinku, Elcho Island I wondered what my final placement as a John Flynn scholar would feel like. I had read about the success of Aboriginal Health Practitioner-led programs, the Strong Women, the Yolngu culture, the beautiful beaches.

The new Galiwinku Clinic is staffed by both Balanda and Aboriginal Health Practitioners, most of whom grew up on Elcho. They know the place like the back of their hand; where to find patients, who is away, who is due for their shots,  family structures, and where to find bush medicine. Most consults are conducted as a team; working together between local health workers and visiting staff, which makes it a culturally safe and engaging process for practitioners and patients. It’s easy to see why this model of health care provision works in remote communities!

The Yolngu staff were very welcoming to their JFPP scholar. I was invited to go hunting in the mangroves for rock oysters (my technique needs work!) and to attend a special baby smoking ceremony. I was shown by the Strong Women which tree bark is good for asthma and which is good for skin sores. “Its breathing, its fresh, its alive, what more could you want from bush medicine," Helen, one of the Strong Women, mused while were out bush. I was fortunate enough to assist on a homelands outreach clinic to Mapuru, a small community accessed via an even smaller plane. Elcho Island is beautiful - it's quite safe to take an evening stroll, see people eating the days catch on the beach and enjoying the colourful sunsets. Coming from a Victorian winter, the weather was glorious. Time flew on the Island. I was fortunate enough to gain experience parallel consulting in child health, acute care, chronic care plans, and assist in resuscitations and medevacs. The clinic also hosted a special family planning evening.

Being in my final year of medical school I could also see how much I had learnt since my first JFPP placement in a different community. On my first placement, I learnt to cannulate. On completion of the JFPP I now feel in recognising and responding to a deteriorating patient. The John Flynn Placement Program is an excellent platform to gain practical clinical skills.  Beyond the day to day activities, this experience was a salient reminder of the gap in health and access to health care for Indigenous Australians, as well as the ongoing need and opportunity for committed people, programs and policies to work in this space.

As a medical student, the John Flynn Placement Program gets you places you couldn’t otherwise experience. It allowed me to experience the depth and breadth of remote medicine, work with Aboriginal communities, experience adventure and culture never imagined in my home state. Experiences like these sow the seeds for future careers and I’m very grateful to the NTGPE for their support over the years – I hope to return to the NT soon!

- Alex Umbers, JFPP Scholar