Tips for going rural

Moving your nursing job to a rural location can be great for so many reasons. You can enjoy the travel to new areas, the exposure to different cultures, the enjoyment of working with a diverse team of people and of course the opportunity to polish your clinical skills in areas you may not otherwise necessarily get to practice.

A lot of agency nurses love trying out rural or remote working for a while, as they are often the kind of people who enjoy these new and different experiences. Perhaps going rural is the perfect next step for you?

The difference between rural and remote

If you are considering heading out of your big city for a while, it pays to know the difference between going rural and going remote.

A rural placement is within an area that is not considered to be metropolitan. That is, it can be a small hospital in a small town, with just a few beds. Or it could be a larger hospital in what feels like a larger town but is still outside of the major cities. It is highly recommended that nurses start with rural work before they move onto remote work, as it will help them get their head around the smaller scales and the different living environments, as well as providing great experience in the smaller hospitals or clinics.

A remote placement is one that is based in clinics that are even further away than the rural communities. These locations usually have a high indigenous population and the lifestyle is very different to the ‘Westernised’ Australia that most of us are used to. Not only will you need to know a lot about different areas of nursing, but you will need to have a good understanding of cultural differences as well.

As a remote nurse – also known as a RAN (Remote Area Nurse) – you may need to expand your usual nursing responsibilities due to limited access to doctors and specialists. For example, RAN’s may need to have qualifications in Maternity Emergency Care, even if they are not a maternity nurse.

RAN’s are also required to have a drivers’ license, and undergo driver and safety training – preferably within a 4WD. Remote nurses will often find themselves needing to drive on unsealed roads and in all kinds of conditions, such as in torrential rain in the wet season.

Get all of your qualifications

Before applying for a rural posting, speak to your nursing agency about what kind of qualifications you may need. Due to the nature of working in an area that does not have the same access to specialists as the metropolitan hospitals, you may find you need to have additional qualifications on top of what you already have.

Not all contracts will require additional qualifications, but you will open up more job opportunities for yourself if you complete the extra courses. For example, in Western Australia 95% of all contracts within the ED or Multipurpose facilities state that it is mandatory to have your WA Country Health Service Triage Certification. So while you can go over to WA and hope for a nursing placement without it, you will only be able to apply for approximately 5% of the job postings.

Other qualifications that are worth looking into is Immunisation and Advanced Life Support. Both of these are pre-requisites in many rural contracts.

Be mentally prepared

Going from metropolitan to rural or remote can be a big change. Although you will never be expected to do work that is outside of your skillset, you will have exposure to all kinds of emergencies and cases that you may not see or work on in your city job. You might also come across all kinds of personalities such as patients who are aggressive or difficult.

You will also need to get your head around working in smaller environments than what you may be used to. You might be used to working in large teams and meeting new colleagues each week. As a rural nurse, you will be in a smaller clinic, hospital or multipurpose centre. This will see a big change in the number of staff you are now working with. But don’t be worried that you will be alone all of the time. Most locations will have at least 2-3 nurses on the roster, and because some of the centres are the only ones around for miles you will be kept busier than you might expect.

Finally, mentally prepare for what you are looking for. Chat to your nursing agency about how long you’d like to be away. Are you keen to just dip your toe and try rural nursing for a matter of weeks? Or are you looking to move for a longer period of time such as a year? Anything works, just let your agency know what you are after.

Before you do anything drastic like cut the lease on your property or quit your job, take some time to talk to your agency. Go through your plans, the kind of contracts they usually have available and places you’d be willing to move to. Once you are both on the same page it is time to hit the ground running!

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