Student scholarship reflections for 2018

Each year ACEN awards eight $1500 scholarships to provide financial support for students undertaking a WIL placement in a regional or remote area of Australia as part of their 2017/2018 university studies. Upon completion of the placement recipients are required to provide a reflection of the WIL experience which should

  • Identify the personal growth and skill development as a result of the WIL placement
  • How the ACEN Scholarship supported the recipient’s career aspirations
  • Evidence of the ability to think critically and question biases and assumptions

We are adding the reflections for 2018.

Leap before you look – the NT Child Protection Placement (Monash University Master of Social Work)

For an amazing three months during the placement, I worked at one of the women’s shelters in a remote community that is about 200km from XXX. I had opportunities to travel to the community throughout the week, and oversight the safe house with two Indigenous ladies. … There were two major tasks involved my role: one was crisis intervention, supporting clients and their children who evacuated from the incident of family and domestic violence. The other was to facilitate the process of community development, working with other local stakeholders and sharing information as a part of preventative and early intervention approach.

More on Leap before you look - the NT Child Protection Placement

Sometimes life will take you to a place you have never imagined before. Sometimes, it is important to leap and see what you can find and feel, which is just as important as thinking and analysing before taking action. Examining, predicting and theorizing about situations are of critical importance, but also practice could shape how you think, theorize and take action. farm buildings at duskMy placement started like the title above. When I decided to apply for the placement, I had been studying social work almost two years in Australia with no experience in working with Indigenous people. Despite knowing the overwhelming situation of Indigenous people and knowing that they are one of the people who need social work the most, all I had was so-called ‘book knowledge’, which I heard from the media and read from books and articles. That being said, I was unsure about how I could work with Indigenous people and communities. I also cannot deny that I had a certain amount of fear and anxiety in going out of my comfort zone and jumping into a new environment. However, I at least wanted to seize the opportunity to immense myself in living, working and learning how to engage with Indigenous people from the ground up, and hopefully make a small contribution to ‘closing the gap’. For an amazing three months during the placement, I worked at one of the women’s shelters in a remote community that is about 200km from XXX. I had opportunities to travel to the community throughout the week, and oversight the safe house with two Indigenous ladies. In the community, poverty, drug and alcohol issues, and family and domestic violence have been chronic and prevalent. There were two major tasks involved my role: one was crisis intervention, supporting clients and their children who evacuated from the incident of family and domestic violence. The other was to facilitate the process of community development, working with other local stakeholders and sharing information as a part of preventative and early intervention approach.

I also spent considerable time in reflecting on what ‘empowerment’ or ‘community development’ mean, which are often times overused terms in our profession. The activities I engaged in were never value-free …

Going ‘out bush’ provided me with challenges as well as great learning opportunities. It was very easy to feel desperate over the lack of resources and remoteness: there was little access to the internet and phone coverage. Sometimes my day started by fixing fax machines, air conditioners, TV and stuck water in the toilet. I did not have access to cars while I was in the community, and I also needed to conduct clients’ full assessment and consultation relying mostly on phone calls. Moreover, there were only minimal services in the community, and we were required to tackle logistical issues to support clients being transitioned to the largest town which is a few hundred kilometres away. Professionally, this meant that I had an opportunity to reflect on and utilize my existing skills and knowledge as much as possible. Learning to be comfortable with wearing different hats at the same time or switching skills simultaneously certainly enhanced my flexibility as a social worker. In addition, it could be the case that things may not go well even if you are flexible and adaptable. Resilience, the capacity to bounce back after setbacks or struggles with limited options, was of critical importance for working in a remote area. Furthermore, engaging with multiple people at different levels in the community allowed me to improve my negotiation and communication skills. Although the closeness and remoteness of a small community may work negatively at times, I also realized that sharing the same locality, close networks, and flexibility are the strengths of a small community. For example, there were many times when local people offered me their great local and cultural knowledge, helped in transport and inspired ideas for community development. I learned relationship building is the heart of community work. Similarly, I learned from my Indigenous colleagues about their strong connection to Country, cultural identity and family and kinship ties. I also spent considerable time in reflecting on what ‘empowerment’ or ‘community development’ mean, which are often times overused terms in our profession. The activities I engaged in were never value-free, and it was critical to examine whose values and needs are reflected in community work, and what are the needs of the community. What I regard as ‘good’ for the community may not be accepted in the same way by people in the community. It was great to dedicate to and feel passionate about your work and wish to be a part of the community. However, it was important not to be blind-sided, that it is their community and land. I learned that instead of imposing my ideas of how to work and how to resolve the problems on local people, it is important to seek alternative ways of doing things with consultation and creativity, and let the local people take the lead. Going out bush certainly set personal challenges too. Working in remote communities was physically and mentally challenging. Moreover, the environment that I have been familiar with was vastly different from where I stayed during the placement. I was born and raised in one of the largest and busiest cities in the world, where there is convenience, efficiency and accessibility at hand. However, respecting the pace of people working in the community and accepting that I am just a tiny bit of the vastness of nature in the bush allowed me to be more humble, resilient and open-minded towards learning. Furthermore, my professional and personal relationship with the Indigenous ladies at the safe house taught me great lessons about being proud of my own culture and identity as well as about the significance of being ‘different but equal’. In retrospect, as a result of leaping, there were many mistakes or could-have-done-better experiences throughout the placement. I learned that it is important to pick up the lessons learned and try again with an attitude of curiosity and fun, and to try again if that also won’t work out. Ask questions and offer advice from people and learn again. In essence, facing the wilderness in the bush, I noticed that it is vital to be content with miniscule achievements of change. My journey as a social worker has just begun. Looking at a broader perspective, social issues including housing shortages, over-crowded housing, unemployment, lack of education and welfare dependency are imminent and overwhelming, which has to be worked on together with all children’s well-being and safety. Past history of colonization and policy implementations are still ongoing issues, impacting on current situations and practices. From community development perspective, implementing community-led approach requires more involvement and initiative of the people in the communities. Despite these challenges, after having great experiences during the placement, I am keener than ever to go back to the Northern Territory and to dedicate myself as a social work practitioner to work alongside the first Australians and their communities, and to contribute to social change albeit incrementally. outback roadNothing the above happened in a vacuum – I was extremely fortunate to receive financial support from the ACEN Scholarship. Financial support from the ACEN Scholarship helped me reduce the pressure of undertaking a placement in a remote area. It was also great that ACEN is one of the few organizations that offers remote placement scholarships to a wide range of degrees for both domestic and international students. As an international student, this was very helpful as financial capacity has been the biggest challenge to applying for remote placement. With great support provided from ACEN Scholarship, I could complete my placement without worrying about my budget. Needless to say, I had been well-supported by people around me. I thank my supervisor who mentored, guided and encouraged me throughout the placement, and gave me a lot of opportunities to travel to remote communities for a ‘bush work’. As a placement student, I feel grateful to have such a rare opportunity which broadened my capacity and potential as a practitioner. I had experiences that I probably could not easily have anywhere in Australia, and I feel this even stronger after returning back to my life in Melbourne. I am equally thankful to my Indigenous colleagues at the safe house, who showed me their love and pride towards their community and gave me a warm welcome. I will forever embrace a skin name that was given to me. I was also lucky to have five wonderful peer students who worked and lived together and know most of the twists and turns during my placement. Finally, I would also thank for my family who always give me smiles and positivity regardless of the distance between us, and have given me support and love.

Medical placement in Katherine NT (University of Wollongong)

Being able to experience Aboriginal culture as an Australian is a special thing. During my time in Katherine I have not only spent time on the paediatric ward with Aboriginal children and their families, but also explored Katherine’s surrounds with the assistance of the ACEN scholarship.

In the ward setting I saw diagnoses that I had only learnt about in text books, but never seen in reality.

More on Medical placement in Katherine

Weaving at KatherineBeing able to experience Aboriginal culture as an Australian is a special thing. During my time in Katherine I have not only spent time on the paediatric ward with Aboriginal children and their families, but also explored Katherine’s surrounds with the assistance of the ACEN scholarship.

In the ward setting I saw diagnoses that I had only learnt about in text books, but never seen in reality. They are often considered diagnoses of developing countries rather than that of Australia. Many of these diseases could be prevented by simple sanitation, health literacy and appropriate housing. Education was key on discharge with these families to improve overall health knowledge and prevent simple infections in the future. I certainly improved my communication skills aiming to get the message across often significant language barriers. Obviously housing was not a problem that I could solve independently, but it was great to see the doctors focus on advocating for patients to avoid the same situations from recurring. I was able to sit in multi-disciplinary team meetings with social work, Aboriginal liaison officers, nurses and other allied health staff where housing was at the forefront of discussions.

I certainly improved my communication skills aiming to get the message across often significant language barriers.

I was taught about the belief systems in Aboriginal culture regarding the origins of sickness and why many people don’t attend hospital because they believe they should be cured through spiritual healers. Whilst western medicine hasn’t quite got the mix right, it was beneficial to see doctors respecting the spiritual beliefs of the local patients without being dismissive.

Outside of the hospital I spent every weekend in National Parks exploring the beauty of the land and learning about Jawoyn stories. I was fortunate to be taught how pick the pandanus leaves and strip them for basket weaving. I was taught to fish from a hand real (unsuccessfully) and make damper over the campfire. I saw 5000 year old Aboriginal rock art, swam in waterfalls and hiked extensively through the gorge.

This placement has taught me more than how to diagnose unusual diseases, it has given me a further appreciation of how to treat Aboriginal patients with great respect. I still have a lot to learn about remote medicine and Aboriginal culture, but this placement has provided me with a better sense of how to approach it and has certainly got me looking forward to coming back in the future.

Dentistry placement in Ingham Qld (James Cook University)

Dental Health displayFinal year placement in my Bachelor of Dental Surgery course saw me get the opportunity in Ingham Queensland, a small sugar town north of Townsville. During my studies to be a dentist, clinical experience and patient factors are two key, evidence based practice, factors which cannot be overlooked.

More on dentistry placement in Ingham

Final year placement in my Bachelor of Dental Surgery course saw me get the opportunity in Ingham Queensland, a small sugar town north of Townsville. During my studies to be a dentist, clinical experience and patient factors are two key, evidence based practice, factors which cannot be overlooked. Dental health displayPlacement in Ingham has very much allowed the development of these areas. By being placed within a rural community, it quickly became apparent that this area was underserved. Currently there is only one public dentist in the town and the waiting list for dental service unfortunately can be greater than twelve months. As a student dentist, this results in two distinct benefits, the ability to practice dentistry and the ability improve the quality of life of citizens within the community. During my time in Ingham, I have seen an improvement in attendance rates at the dental clinic, as well as instigated multi-disciplinary discussions regarding the health of people within the community.

Currently there is only one public dentist in the town and the waiting list for dental service unfortunately can be greater than twelve months.

The ACEN scholarship helped provide placement support during my placement at the Ingham Hospital Dental Clinic, with my integration into the hospital well received by the community. As a result, I have been involved with community based projects such as the School Immunization Program and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Men’s Health Mini Expo. The focus of these projects was to provide practical and holistic health information in a low-stress setting. The events were a resounding success and resulted in the provision of health supplies and education material. The programs were directed by the Townsville Hospital Health Service, with the ATSI Men’s Health Mini Expo being directed by ATSI Clinical Nurse, Diana Friday. The mini expo involved a multidisciplinary approach to health, including general medical practitioners, dentists, clinical psychologists, physiotherapists, optometrists and occupational therapists. These projects provided the student clinician the opportunity to integrate and coordinate the delivery of health information with allied health professionals, as well as created an opportunity to explore the oral-systemic link of health with health professionals. This I believe provides an experience unlike that seen by WIL placements in metropolitan placements and readies the student for employment.

I am genuinely thankful for the ACEN scholarship as it helped alleviate the economic burden associated with my relocation to the area and allowed me to immerse myself in extracurricular activities. This placement has more than prepared me for graduation and given me an advantage when practicing dentistry in the future.

Dentistry in Devonport

Sunrise in Devonport

Growing up in a rural and remote town in country NSW has formed a large part of who I am as a person. I owe a lot to rural Australia and have witnessed first-hand the hardships and discrepancies in the field of health care.

More about Dentistry in Devonport

Growing up in a rural and remote town in country NSW has formed a large part of who I am as a person. I owe a lot to rural Australia and have witnessed first-hand the hardships and discrepancies in the field of health care. Health has always been an interest of mine and during the past 5 years I have been completing a Bachelor of Dental Surgery at the University of Adelaide. Having already completed a month placement in the Riverlands of South Australia I was excited to start my second placement providing dental health services to the rural and remote region of North-West Tasmania. During my 2 month placement I was centred in the dockland city of Devonport.

Through this clinical placement, I received hands on experience in aspects of dentistry I would not have otherwise received. From surgical extraction, trauma cases or providing treatment for patients under General Anaesthesia in the local hospital it was an invaluable experience that has developed me as a clinician and has readied me for the work force. In my opinion one of the most rewarding aspects of working with rural and remote regions is the genuine appreciation and thankfulness of the patients after providing treatment for them and breaking the predisposed bias and mind-set that because of their rural residence that they deserve a lesser quality of health.

The beauty of rural Tasmania also has its perks. During the weekends I had the opportunity to check out some local waterfalls, a skiing trip, and enjoy some of Tasmania’s breath taking views (despite the freezing cold weather).

Waterfall and skiing

Me saturated and freezing under Liffey Falls and Ski trip with some of the staff of the Devonport Dental Clinic

Living away from Adelaide for two months and being away from my part time job put significant financial pressure and worry in preparation for my placement. Being awarded the ACEN scholarship alleviated this financial stress and allowed me to focus on my placement and enjoy some of Tasmania’s spectacular scenery. Simply put the ACEN scholarship made my placement financially possible and because of this I feel one step closer to pursuing my goals and careers aspirations in my chosen degree.

Mt Wellingtoona d the Aroroa

Minus 4 degrees and windy at the top of Mount Wellington, Hobart) and The breath-taking Aurora Australis/Southern lights