When Leah Heritage accepted a position as a graduate nurse in Alice Springs, she thought it would be an interesting first career move. Little did she know that three years later, she would feel so at home in the middle of the country, thousands of kilometres from the Gold Coast where she was born and raised.
“I didn’t know anyone when I moved here but there is a great community and a great outdoors lifestyle. There are all kinds of sports, camping, outdoors activities, which I love. It didn’t take long to feel like home.
“The work has been incredible. I had experience in Indigenous health on placement when I was doing my degree at Southern Cross and I knew it was an area I was interested in. I also knew I was interested in primary health over acute care and the work here combines those two very well,” says Leah.
Working for the Central Aboriginal Congress out of Alice Springs as Children’s Outreach Nurse, Leah and her team take care of about 60 children who are dealing with complex health issues such as rheumatic heart disease or even as transplant patients.
“Families have been greatly impacted by European colonialisation and government interventions which have left them at a greater risk of poor health outcomes.
“The kids and their families are often dealing with really complex social situations. I don’t think people in other parts of the country realise the extent of poverty that exists out here and how that affects people’s health,” said Leah.
“We see diseases like Chronic Suppurative Lung Disease (CSLD) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD) and Strep A infection that are a direct result of people’s living circumstances with overcrowding a real problem. Waitlists for public housing can be 15-20 years. I see health problems in kids here that you just wouldn’t see in other places.”
With generous allowances for relocation and salaries, Leah encourages all nursing students and new graduates to consider working in remote areas. “Even for 6-12 months, the experience is life-changing, not just in the professional skills you learn but in the personal growth,” she said.
“Also, there are a lot of perks. Some health jobs include free accommodation and additionally there is the opportunity to learn lots about local languages and culture.”
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