Nursing opportunities galore in rural NSW
Nurses in rural areas often have greater opportunities to develop their skills because of the range of work they are exposed to, while less competition means they often have opportunities to advance faster in their careers.
The lack of awareness of rural nursing opportunities means many rural communities are in need of nursing professionals, says Jacqui Blackshaw, Manager, Nursing and Midwifery Transition and Workforce for the Western NSW local health district.
“There is currently a strong demand for rural nurses in Western NSW, and recruiting enthusiastic, skilled nurses to work in rural areas is a key focus for the Western NSW Local Health District,” she says.
Blackshaw says that working in rural health facilities can significantly enhance nurses’ skills because “they often have to work across all areas of nursing, such as community, emergency and inpatient care”.
She adds: “Rural clinicians also have access to clinical support from district and metropolitan hospitals using the Critical Care Advisory Service and Telehealth, which allow real-time video interaction with the relevant doctors or specialists if advice is required.”
This is backed up by a recent study by Monash University and the University of Newcastle of nursing students who did rural placements. It found students had practice opportunities they would not have had in a city.
“They were able to experience a broader scope of practice, not being confined to one specific area of practice and were therefore challenged to learn new skills,” the report, titled Heck Yes, found.
Rural placements also allowed students to be more autonomous in their practice, the report concluded. And for new graduates, a graduate program position in rural areas was attractive because of “the opportunity to diversify their exposure and upskill their clinical competencies”.
Encouraging nurses to relocate their families to rural areas can sometimes be challenging, Blackshaw admits.
“However, moving to a rural community is usually a very rewarding experience, both professionally and personally.
“Affordability, being part of community and getting to spend more time with family are some of the main personal benefits according to many clinicians who have moved to rural and remote areas.”
And nurses in rural areas can often advance their careers faster in smaller health services, she says, “simply because there is less competition for the roles”.
“In addition, rural nurses often find they are able to build stronger relationships with other staff and patients, making it a rewarding place to work.”
A student placement in a rural area often led to students taking up rural careers, the Heck Yes report found.
“Having an opportunity to experience living and working in a rural or remote area are central to [a graduate’s] practice location decision making,” the report, conducted by Rural Health Workforce Australia, found.
The report recommended improving marketing efforts to promote the career benefits of rural placements. It also recommended improving incentives for students and new graduates, including help with relocation and accommodation costs, as well as strong support structures for students and graduate nurses starting rural careers.
It also called on universities to increase intake of students from rural areas, who are more likely to take up rural careers.
“Moving to a rural community is usually a very rewarding experience, both professionally and personally.”
“Being in a new place is a lot of fun”
Registered nurse Ignat Kozlov wasn’t planning on a nursing career in a regional hospital, but a clinical placement at Wagga Wagga Rural Referral Hospital when he was a student exposed him to some of the advantages of rural nursing.
“Almost all my placements were in the city, but at the beginning of 2014 I did a two-week placement in the mental health unit at Wagga Wagga,” Ignat says.
The placement exposed him to a wide range of medicine: “As a big hospital in a regional area we get referrals from all of the small hospitals in the region”.
“The biggest difference I noticed at Wagga Wagga [compared to city placements] was less with the actual work than being exposed to a wide range of situations.”
Ignat returned to Sydney, but when he completed his training he successfully applied for a position at Wagga Wagga, and he is now working at the hospital in general medicine.
“I’m mainly working with heart and lungs in general ward nursing. But we get all kinds of patients admitted to the hospital so there’s a big variety.”
One of the things that has impressed Ignat about being at Wagga Wagga is the program for new RNs.
“I found it to be a really good new graduate program. After your first year they have a development program in your second year. It’s an extension of the new graduate program where you spend a year in a particular area.
“I told them what I was interested in and they organised that,” he says.
The hospital provided Ignat with an opportunity to work in an angiography suite, as well as opportunities to work in theatre and airway management.
“There’s an advantage to being able to specialise, but also having the opportunity to see a lot of things.”
There are other benefits to a rural placement, he adds: “I like the lifestyle. It’s five minutes to walk to work. I’ve made a lot of new friends and I’ve seen parts of NSW I would never have seen. It’s cheaper to live here, and the pay is the same for nurses as it is in the city.”
Students who do placements at Wagga Wagga can stay in the old nurses quarters, which offers affordable accommodation.
And they can apply for a placement grant from the government to help cover the costs of a rural placement: Ignat says he received “around $500”.
“I think everyone should try and do a placement out in the country, and when you’re looking for work, consider moving out of Sydney,” he says.
“Just being in a new place is a lot of fun.”
Western NSW LHD has a website – Y Not Make It You! which outlines the benefits of working in rural NSW, the job opportunities and how to register your interest.
“I like the lifestyle. I’ve made a lot of new friends and I’ve seen parts of NSW I would never have seen. It’s cheaper to live here, and the pay is the same for nurses as it is in the city.”