Reflections from our 2019 scholarship awardees

(Added as they become available)

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 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

Murray River at Berri, RiverlandSpeech pathology in the Riverland SA

My final roster placement for Bachelor of Speech Pathology gave me the opportunity to work in the Riverland of rural South Australia as part of the Department for Education in Berri.  I grew up just over the boarder in Victoria and had driven through the area multiple times over the years. However, this placement was an opportunity to become part of the local community.  This area is only two and a half hours from Adelaide, yet like other more rural and remote communities, it struggles attracting and retaining both medical and allied health workers. The school areas in which the Berri office are responsible for, are located up to 100km in each direction.  Some days required long hours sitting in a car driving commuting between the different schools.

I was able to gain a broad experience, working with children from both culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and how speech pathologists in schools can bring about better language and literacy outcomes for children with speech and language difficulties.  Supporting teachers and students in providing strategies to increase and support access to the curriculum effectively.  I was given opportunities to develop new skills, such as participating in the indigenous hearing screen program for primary aged children.  Developing new skills in conducting hearing screens, setting up, using the specialised equipment and how to record the results. Also, where to refer families if hearing difficulties were indicated, for a full hearing assessment and further adjustments that could be made to support the child within the classroom environment.

I thoroughly enjoyed working in rural South Australia and all the opportunities I was offered to increase my learning and develop new skills.  I would not have had the same opportunities, if I had remained in the city.  There are many challenges to service provision in rural areas. I found that each challenge I faced gave me an opportunity to use each setback and frustration to foster my identity as a speech pathologist. These frustrations and setbacks provided many opportunities to develop online problem-solving and negotiation skills.

I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship from Australian Collaborative Education Network (ACEN) to financially support my time away from home.  This scholarship allowed me to solely focus on completing my 10-week placement without the constant financial worries of maintaining two households.  It provided me the opportunity to attend additional professional development workshops to increase my knowledge. Being able to experience placement in a rural location has provided me with a passion for working with rural communities and I have just accepted a position in rural Western Australia for my first year as a practicing speech pathologist.  Something I may not have considered if I hadn’t had the financial support and opportunity to experience living and working in the Riverland.  Thank you.

Social work in Broome WA

Rural student placements create great opportunity to develop personally and professionally, with extremely unique learning experiences. My fourteen week social work student placement in Broome, Western Australia has been my most valued learning experience yet and provided a platform for me to develop my skills, resilience, initiative, flexibility and assertiveness. I was fortunate enough to work in a multi-disciplinary team and learn about various practice frameworks, theoretical applications and the ways in which cultural competency informs all levels of service provision. My placement was focused on community engagement and development, however I was fortunate enough to also have exposure to the clinical youth mental health practice setting, social & emotional wellbeing activities and youth vocational support for young people engaged in the service. The team created a space where I felt comfortable to identify my learning goals and areas of interest, question the significance of things, seek further understanding on practice approaches and negotiate workloads in order to support team members where appropriate. The reciprocal willingness of all staff to learn and knowledge share enhanced my learning experience and I was able to gain understanding in the different elements of service provision including; mental health, physical & sexual health, alcohol & other drugs and work & study. My experiential self-learning was complemented by ritual weekly supervision which was always full of honest, open and robust conversations that inspired further reading, research and application of social work theory to my practice.

My rural student placement has installed trust in my own ability to relocate and immerse myself in a different cultural context, contributing to my development as an upcoming social work practitioner. I have witnessed my own personal growth in a short period of time, which was aided by the unique and challenging practice experiences I was exposed to. I feel confident to adapt to new living and working environments and the challenge of pushing myself to learn new thinks, think creatively and not be afraid to question practices.

My most profound learning has been in working with Aboriginal young people and the generosity of my colleagues and our service users in sharing their cultural wisdom. I was provided with multiple cultural awareness training and had meaningful interactions with various community members that opened my eyes to the Broome cultural context, which I am still actively seeking more understanding.  The Broome context was something I was not familiar with and differs immensely from Perth. In the three months I have been here, I have tried my best to develop an understanding of the social and cultural context, however I think this takes time to fully gauge. The influence of social issues is immense in the Broome context and complexities lie in providing holistic, sustainable and respected community services. I have observed, read widely and debriefed about the impact of colonization and the structural disadvantage experienced in the community. This knowledge influences human service provision and demands culturally competent and secure practice methods. I have learnt about power relationships and the reliance of funding in small organisations. I have also learnt that social issues inform services, which are attempting to effectively respond to concepts of human rights and social justice and the importance of placing the service user at the centre of their recovery journey, while acknowledging the systemic influences on their wellbeing.

I am extremely grateful for the financial support gifted to me through the ACEN student scholarship, which relieved some of the financial stress experienced in relocating thousands of kilometres away from home. The support helped reduce the pressure felt by committing to a student placement in a remote area, for which I am extremely grateful. Without support, the ability to embrace the challenging yet inspiring aspects of a remote placement would not have been possible. I have increased my knowledge and skills, have a much greater sense of confidence, have developed innovation and learnt how to think creatively in order to respond to the demands of having limited access.

Speech pathology in Katherine NT

Katherine waterholeFor my final clinical placement for my Masters of Speech Pathology, I had the opportunity to go to Katherine, Northern Territory. As soon as I heard about the opening, I jumped at the chance to go; how many times in your life do you have the opportunity to live and work in a community so far removed from your everyday life? My peers and I arrived in Katherine in the “build up”, which entailed relentless heat for weeks on end. Having lived in Tasmania for most of my life, weeks on end of temperatures rising above 40 degrees every day is something that I have never experienced nor was able to imagine prior to this experience. In spite of this, I already can’t wait to return to Katherine to visit and explore the area further.

Working as a Speech Pathologist within a state primary school in Katherine enabled me to develop and refine clinical skills that will be invaluable to me throughout my career. Holistic, client centred practice is one of the core values as a Speech Pathologist and this value and skill was integral to this placement experience. My peers and I learnt to use and interpret our speech and language assessments with caution as they have all been designed to use on children who speak standard Australian English as their first language. Many of the children I worked with spoke standard Australian English as their second, third or even fourth language. Often my peers and I relied on gathering information from multiple different sources to garner a complete picture of the challenges the child was experiencing. As a new clinician, learning to gather and collate information from all sources and placing less weight on formalised assessments is something that I will take with me into all future encounters.

This placement has enabled me to learn more about Aboriginal cultures. While at the school, I had the opportunity to speak to the children about their Dreaming, culture and way of life. My experiences have given me a further appreciation of how to work with Aboriginal clients and their families with great respect and cultural sensitivity. I still have a lot to learn about Aboriginal cultures and working as an allied health practitioner within a remote community, but this placement has provided me with a deeper understanding of how to approach it and what I must be aware of when working alongside such an ancient culture.

Outside of working in the school, I spent my weekends in the community or in the national parks exploring the beauty of the Katherine region. I was fortunate enough to see the natural beauty of naturally formed hot springs, 5000-year-old Aboriginal rock art, fast flowing waterfalls and hike throughout the gorge. The landscape that surrounds Katherine is breathtakingly beautiful.
Financial capacity is always a major consideration when applying for a remote placement. I am extremely thankful for the support provided through the ACEN scholarship, as this scholarship helped alleviate the economic burden associated with a remote placement and allowed me to immerse myself into the community and extracurricular activities. I feel grateful to have been able to experience a unique and rare opportunity that has broadened my capacity as a practitioner; experiences that I may not have easily been able to have anywhere else in Australia. This placement has added valuable skills to both my professional and personal skill set, made me examine my prejudices and expectations of another culture. It has also given me an advantage when practicing Speech Pathology in the future.

Social work in remote NT

Noodles at UluruBeing in the desert and working as a child protection practitioner with Indigenous people for three months are things that I never imagined myself would be doing at the age of 23. Receiving the ACEN scholarship for my child protection placement has significantly broadened my horizon and enhanced my career opportunities as well as allowing me to experience, first hand, what it would be like to working with Indigenous people in the NT. I came to Australia as an international student in 2013 and I have been learning so much about Indigenous people on the books as I did a Bachelor of Psychological Science and a Master of Social Work. However, when I decided to apply for this placement in the NT, I did not have any experience in working with Indigenous people at all. I was worried and unsure about how I could work with them, given the fact that I am from a different cultural background and more importantly because of the history of the Stolen Generations of the Indigenous people.

The knowledge and experience that I gained over these three months are indescribable. As a Master of Social Work student, I learnt endless skills to communicate with Indigenous people in an effective and respectful manner. Building a rapport with clients is always the fundamental element to work with clients and I got the chance to put my professional knowledge in such discipline into practice. It is very stressful to work in NT with limited resources and this is not just referring to food, water, electricity, internet connection, etc. I gained the experience and skills to work under undue pressure on a high caseload with very limited supervision as the department in the NT is always understaffed. As an individual who is passionate about working with and helping people, I became more self-reliant, reflective and confident in my abilities.

Reflective practice played a key role during my child protection placement. It has been very controversial in terms of the rights and responsibilities of child protection practitioners in the NT. This is because of the history of the Stolen Generations and cultural differences regarding the definition of child neglect. Being reflective and always having a certain level of self-awareness are crucial in order to deliver best child protection practice in such field. During these three months, I got the experience of meeting with clients under the influence of drugs and alcohol, I was scolded by clients in the public, I was hugged by a client since I took part in reuniting her family, etc. These are all the experience that I would never gain without the support given by the ACEN. Being reflective also allows me to think critically and question subtle biases and assumptions. Such attributes are particularly important when working with Indigenous people.

I graduated with a Master of Social Work at Monash University last week and I have been working in a NGO with African Australians in Melbourne since I came back from the NT in October. Having the three-month experience in working as a child protection practitioner in the NT enables me to be empowered and, at the same time, humble when working with clients from different cultural background. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the ACEN for supporting me throughout my social work journey!

Physiotherapy in Beechworth

Beechworth Health ServiceAs a student from the city of Melbourne, moving north to the regional town of Orange to study Physiotherapy at Charles Sturt University was a daunting prospect. Now having completed my final year I can say the experience has been extremely rewarding both from an educational perspective and in terms of my own personal growth. When receiving the official notification that I would be attending a service-learning placement in the rural town of Beechworth in Victoria I was sceptical as I had heard stories about the relevance of service-learning placements; how would this affect my learning due to it not being clinically based. Would I see patients? What would be involved? Would I actually enjoy this placement?

In reality my Beechworth placement turned out to be one of my most enjoyable and rewarding experiences of my final year. I was surrounded by a caring, welcoming and insightful team of allied health professionals and important staff. Paired with another student from my year group we were tasked with creating a sustainable set of exercise programs that could be implemented into the Beechworth Health Service and corresponding activity groups.

This involved creating a thesis with all relevant information and research that would be applicable to the implementation of these programs. Containing current evidence trends, a community profile that referenced recent census results and other significant data such as objective measures we were able to create a number of useful resources that could be integrated into the mission statement of the activity groups.

Beechworth itself represents a niche, well preserved former mining town situated between Wodonga and Myrtleford with a plethora of attractions to visit including the Old Beechworth Gaol, Woolshed Waterfalls, the award-winning Beechworth brewery and various expansive wineries. Resultantly weekends were fulfilling, and enjoyable and lunch breaks were always savoured during the week.

Being a recipient of the ACEN scholarship made it possible to relish the full experience of attending a placement in a town such as Beechworth. As with many students the financial constraints that we possess and the difficulty in supporting oneself throughout the entire final year is most definitely a challenge. This award allowed me to take a step back from my financial commitments and instead focus on enjoying my placement experience and what steps I needed to take in order to become a better physiotherapist.

As a result of this placement my ability to communicate and negotiate with a broader team of professionals not just from the allied health field has exponentially improved, delegating tasks and making informed decisions was extremely important throughout this placement as everything we achieved had an effect not just at the time but for the foreseeable future after we as students finished.

I feel privileged to have been involved in such an amazing and rewarding experience that has helped nurture my understanding of rural and remote practice in a real setting, and how health professionals can consequently positively contribute to these communities. And as a recipient of this award I would encourage other students involved in WIL placements to apply for this scholarship.

Speech Pathology in Cairns

Studnet in front of health facilityGrowing up in a small regional town of NSW, I have first-hand experience and understanding of how difficult it can be to access appropriate healthcare in a timely manner. I have always aspired to be part of the large, multidisciplinary team that determinedly works to reduce the inequality that exists in healthcare access and services. For the past 1.5 years I have been completing my Master of Speech Pathology at the University of Queensland. Having already completed a few placements around the Brisbane and Gold Coast area, I was excited to learn and practice my Speech Pathology skills at a more regional location. For my 6 week placement block, I was assigned to Cairns North Community Health Service which involved working with children aged 0-5years old with speech and language difficulties.

The way health is practiced in rural and regional areas differs greatly from metropolitan areas. Completing my block placement in a regional location gave me an insight and experience to Speech pathology I would not have received at Brisbane. From working with refugees and different cultures, working with different resources and using advancing technologies to assist with intervention I have learnt many valuable skills I may have otherwise not developed. Completing a rural and regional placement is such an invaluable experience and I believe it has helped me become a more flexible, innovative, adaptable and resourceful student clinician. These are skills that I will continue to use for future placements and as a graduate Speech Pathologist.

Completing this type of placement required me to think critically about what practices and strategies would work best for different cultures and family dynamics, and importantly what strategies would give these families the best long-term outcomes and results .

Completing a placement at Cairns was an amazing learning experience and great area to explore. On weekends I was lucky enough to explore local waterfall and hikes, and scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef.

Living away from Brisbane and not being able to work over the main Summer period caused me great financial stress when planning for this placement. Being awarded the ACEN scholarship relieved a lot of this stress and allowed my to focus on enjoying placement and explore some areas of Far North Queensland. Without this scholarship, completing a rural/regional placement would not have been a viable option for me. I am very grateful for the scholarship as it has allowed me to develop a number of different skills I may not have learnt without the opportunity of going rural or regionally for placement.