2013 Scholarships

Rachael – Social work placement with Queensland Health’s Child and Youth Mental Health Service, Cairns

I was very fortunate to receive an ACEN WIL Scholarship in 2013 that gave me the opportunity to leave Brisbane to undertake a regional social work placement in Cairns within Queensland Health’s Child and Youth Mental Health Service. This enabled me to complete 500 hours of clinical placement, over 16 weeks, to foster my ability to identify complex biopsychosocial needs of consumers and their families, develop skills in assessing suicide risk of children and young people, and acquire skills specific to therapeutic interventions. These therapeutic interventions included Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Solution-focused Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, and Creative Therapies such as art and play therapies.

A placement in Cairns provided an opportunity to experience the social work profession outside of a metropolitan city. This allowed for the broadening of my cultural awareness and development of a culturally sensitive practice within a town that has a high population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I had the privilege of being in a team that had two Aboriginal health workers readily available to consult and collaborate with, who acted as a broker to facilitate working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consumers and their families. I have learnt that this work should be underpinned with respect and recognition of the transgenerational affects of trauma from European settlement, colonisation, and the Stolen Generations through the loss of identity, family connections, cultural and social support networks, and parenting capacity. This is important when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities in order to enable them to take control of improving their own health and social and emotional well being through collaboration that is focused on a reciprocal relationship.

The placement provided a challenging environment that allowed me to develop a strong professional practice framework that I have been able to articulate effectively that is aligned with the Australian Association of Social Work’s Practice Standards and Code of Ethics. I have developed effective communication skills within a unique multidisciplinary team environment that has enabled me to work alongside the biomedical model of practice whilst maintaining my social work values and principles of respect for persons, social justice, and professional integrity, to ensure the client’s needs are being holistically met.

There are many stresses upon students when undertaking their final social work placements with the demands of University assessment deadlines and the expectation of the standard of social work practice demonstrated at graduate level, not to mention the financial stresses of being a full-time student and trying to manage on Centrelink payments. The above mentioned placement achievements would not have been possible without the financial support of the ACEN Scholarship through alleviating some financial stresses, as I was unable to work during my practicum in Cairns. The bursary was able to help me to continue to pay my rent on my accommodation in Brisbane, as well as, cover my accommodation in Cairns. The ACEN financial support also gave me the opportunity of affording flights to visit my family back home, mid-way through my placement, which was crucial to my self-care, as I did not have a support network in Cairns. This was really important to my social and emotional well being during an important, and at times stressful, journey of my emerging professional social work identity.

I am grateful for the financial support I was granted and the experiences had whilst undertaking a health placement in a regional town in Far North Queensland. I would highly recommend a regional or rural placement to any student who was interested in a placement that allows them to get out of their comfort zone and experience something different, away from a metropolitan city, which provides opportunities for networking and making new friends. My Cairns placement not only provided me with great clinical experience, but enabled me to get out of my ‘Brisbane comfort zone’ and discover what social work is like in a regional town setting.

Hannah – Nutrition & Dietetic placements at the Royal Darwin Hospital

Placement Benefits

I have recently completed two consecutive final year Nutrition & Dietetic placements at the Royal Darwin Hospital (RDH). I moved from Adelaide to the Darwin for 14 weeks to gain experience in Clinical Dietetics and Organisational Food Service. The RDH was the ideal opportunity not only to gain the experience required to pass my degree, but also to provide valuable cross-cultural experience supporting my aspirations for working with different people groups.

I chose to study Nutrition & Dietetics because I am passionate about health care (as a delicate and undervalued personal asset), community development and equal opportunities for those less fortunate than myself. I wanted to combine my passion for food and health with a specific knowledge and skill set that I could apply to an international setting. None of the placement opportunities in Adelaide would have allowed me to advance my career goals in the same way that going to the RDH did.

The multicultural RDH was a great first step towards working in remote settings and overseas in the future. The 363 bed hospital services a population of around 150,000 people from the Top End, Western Australia and South-East Asia. During my placements, I have spent time communicating with health professionals, other staff, patients and families from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Around 60% of the patients are indigenous, so I have learnt a lot about how to-communicate effectively, although there is still much to understand I now know that you need to spend a some time ‘having a yarn,’ understanding them and their family and sharing about myself and where / come from, in order for them to build trust and open up to me as we discuss their health. I also had the pleasure to work with many patients who have migrated to Australia from the Middle East and South-East Asia, as well as refugees from the Darwin Detention Centre. After spending a lot of time listening to accents, I feel more effective in listening and communicating cross-culturally. I have also learned about different food cultural habits and cuisines from these patients, broadening my food knowledge base. A big challenge was tailoring the language I use with patients of lower English literacy, and using gestures and pictorial resources to assist in my education.

Working there I have also learnt about many of the socio-cultural factors influencing health- for indigenous and multicultural Australians. In some indigenous communities it could be something like not having a fridge: how can I therefore recommend fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables when people don’t have anywhere appropriate to store it? And what do you do recommend when one quarter of a cauliflower costs $14, but frozen chips and a bottle of coke cost $5? Although this placement has not given me the answers to these questions – as there is no simple solution – I have developed a stronger desire to work towards system change. I could not have chosen a better placement site, and have gained much more than I expected.

Scholarship Benefits

I would like to express my gratitude upon being chosen to receive a $1500 WIL Scholarship in 2013.

Being a remote city, living expenses in Darwin – especially food – did not come cheap. I was still paying rent in Adelaide for 6 weeks of my time which took a heavy toll on my savings. This scholarship also goes towards the bike that I purchased for transport during my stay, and some cultural tours I took to educate myself about the traditional Aboriginal lifestyles and spirituality in order to better get a feel for the people I was working with and really immerse myself in the Darwin lifestyle.

Valerie – Nutrition and Dietetics student at Apunipima Cape York Health Council

valerie-combinedMy name is Valerie and I was one of the fortunate students from the Queensland University of Technology who were given the opportunity to work with Apunipima Cape York Health Council on a remote indigenous community nutrition project for 6 weeks. As a 4th year Nutrition and Dietetics student with a keen interest in community dietetics, this was a dream. Apunipima is responsible for the delivery of a full range of primary health care programs to eleven of the 17 Cape York communities. This was a great opportunity to learn and support the work of the different health teams. My community project was to help increase the number of healthy food and drink options in a remote takeaway store in Pormpuraaw, Cape York and developed resources to support the provision of healthier takeaway choices. It was a lot of work but a lot of fun!

I also assisted with the Need for Feed program, a cooking and nutrition program for school children. I had a great time interacting with the kids and local community members. We made fruit salads, pizzas, sushi and healthy wraps to encourage healthy eating habits and increase food preparation skills. I had my first real glimpse into Indigenous culture and gained a deeper understanding of the health challenges related to remote communities. Having no experience in this area, I did not know what to expect. I was surprised by the strong sense of community and the affection I received from the children. I learned that building strong meaningful relationships with community members was an integral part of community based projects in this setting. Working with a great health team at Apunipima, flying with the Royal Flying Doctors Service and watching a beautiful sunset over the ocean were just some of the highlights of my placement.

Being on placement for a full year is financially challenging. Like many other students on placement, I had to work in the evenings and weekends to pay the bills. Having to live away from Brisbane for 6 weeks with no other sources of income was going to be a struggle. In order to save enough money to go away, I stayed with friends who generously opened up their homes to me. I am grateful for the ACEN scholarship as it helped reduce some of that stress. The ACEN scholarship assisted with my travel fares from Brisbane and living expenses while I was in Cairns. I would like to thank ACEN for giving me the opportunity to see a different side of Australia and enriching my learning experience. I have a new appreciation for the hard working men and women who have dedicated their lives to improving indigenous health in the remote communities. Working in a remote community has helped reaffirm my passion for community dietetics and I look forward to graduation so I can begin the next phase of my career.

Thank you ACEN!









Mani – Nhulunbuy medical student placement

manipicI am a fourth year medical student with Flinders University, and was fortunate to receive an ACEN scholarship while undertaking a 12-week rotation in Nhulunbuy earlier this year. My placement was divided into 6 weeks of general practice training shared between an Aboriginal health service and a mainstream clinic, and 6 weeks placement at Gove District Hospital. Here I outline some of the experiences I gained while in Nhulunbuy.

My placement at Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation exposed me to issues facing Aboriginal health in a primary care setting in this remote part of Australia, as well as helping me to forge strong cross-cultural bonds with the many wonderful Aboriginal people I had the pleasure to meet. I have discovered I absolutely love working in Aboriginal health. I feel this experience of working in an Aboriginal health service will be of huge assistance in helping me to create a culturally safe environment when working with Aboriginal staff and patients in healthcare anywhere in Australia.

While at Miwatj Health, I conducted a clinical audit of their screening and management of chronic kidney disease in Aboriginal people. In addition to writing an audit report, I have presented my findings at the Rural Medicine Australia 2013 conference in Cairns, as well as at multiple informal medical teaching sessions. My work was also formally presented on my behalf at the Australian and New Zealand Society of Nephrology 49th Annual Scientific Meeting in Brisbane in September this year.

My placement at the Endeavour Medical Centre exposed me to mainstream general practice issues in a remote mining town. While I was on my rotation, the town was under threat of major change with the potential closure of the alumina refinery on which the town depended for revenue and employment. I was struck by the number of depressed people that came through the clinic as they grappled with uncertain futures. I also came to appreciate the delicacy of maintaining patient confidentiality in a small town. Being the only mainstream GP practice in the district, virtually everyone will come through the doors at some point in time. It was only a matter of days into my placement before I found my social circles intertwined with people I’d seen as patients. I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to practise maintaining confidentiality in such a small community.

At Gove District Hospital, I experienced patient management in a remote setting with limited services. It was a superb opportunity to hone my diagnostic and management skills without a battery of equipment to help me out. It also brought home the practicalities of managing patients at such a great distance from a major hospital. I delivered babies, saw patients in the emergency department, assisted in the operating theatre, managed in-patients in the ward, and attended outpatient clinics. I also accompanied doctors on outreach visits to the remote communities of Gapuwiyak, Ramingining, and Milingimbi, where I again engaged with Aboriginal health primary care issues.

While in Nhulunbuy, I took the time to engage socially with the community. I joined the local runners club, enjoyed mustering together the winning team for the annual Rotary trivia night, and regularly joined in with live music activities. I experienced the natural beauty of the region by going sailing with friends, and heading bush on many day trips and the occasional camping trip.

The ACEN scholarship was a godsend. I have studied for my medical degree with no income whatsoever and, despite very tight budgeting, have inexorably sunk ever deeper into debt. Studying for a medical degree is time-demanding and exhausting, and I found it was not feasible to work a side job. Going on a short-term placement to a remote area can be an expensive pursuit, with food and other goods routinely much more expensive than in cities, and often requiring rent to be maintained back in one’s usual place of residence. Thanks to ACEN, this placement was free of financial stress for the first time in my four years of study.

I am very glad that I chose to undertake this placement in Nhulunbuy. It was rich both academically and personally, and I believe it will have a strong shaping influence on my future work as a doctor. I am definitely keen to work in rural or remote medicine, preferably in an area rich in Aboriginal culture.