How do I prepare?
It is important to have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and what is expected of you for your placement. Time spent upfront on planning will pave the way for a successful placement. If you’re well organised and do some research, you can hit the ground running.
Check in with your university
If you have a placement organised for you, make sure to find out who your placement coordinator is - they will have info about your dates, placement location, whether there will be other students there and the support available. Some universities may not organise rural placements, check in about the requirements for your course and see if you can do it yourself. You may be able to access funding for expenses such as travel and accommodation. It is also a good idea to find out if anyone has done the same placement before as they may also be able to give you some advice and information.
Before setting off on your placement, think about how you will get there and how you will get around town once you arrive. Options might include train, bus, plane, taxi, cycling or driving (hire car or your own car). If driving, consider the condition of your car and your experience travelling long distances. If you are going on placement with other students, you may consider carpooling.
Many rural and remote communities have very limited (if any) public transport. It’s good to consider the options as part of your pre-planning. Find out what the distance is between your proposed accommodation, the health service you will be working in. Can you walk there, or will you need transport? There may be taxis in the town, or you may need to consider taking your bike or hiring one once you’re there.
One of the biggest factors in any rural placement is where you are going to stay. Investigate early what accommodation is available and ask if there is anything available through your university, the local health services or your workplace. Ask your university placement coordinator if they can recommend somewhere and whether there are any costs associated.
In planning your home away from home, think about what you’ll need. For example, will there be cooking facilities, utensils, bed linen, laundry, TV, a fridge and internet? Also ensure you know the contact details for the accommodation provider, including arrangements for picking up your keys on arrival.
To make the most of your stay, try and find out a bit about the town before you go.
A good place to start is the internet. You should be able to track down population profiles, climate, regional characteristics and local attractions as well as services and recreational facilities.
If you enjoy the movies, see if they have a cinema. If you’re religious, seek out the nearest place of worship. If you’re into fitness, find out if there is a gym or local sporting clubs (the latter being a great way to get involved with the community).
At a practical level, banks and shops in rural and remote areas may have different opening hours compared to the city. You’ll also need to check availability of internet and mobile coverage. It might be handy to download a town map.
Other good sources of local knowledge are Tourist Information Centres and the health service to which you will be assigned.
Family and friends
A rural placement can be a great adventure but don’t be surprised if you feel a bit homesick at times. It’s perfectly natural to miss family and friends while you’re away.
Staying in touch is one way of beating the blues, so think how you might do this before you leave. Will there be mobile coverage? Is there going to be internet access for email and Skype?
While you may miss your loved ones, you can still enjoy your country experience by getting involved as much as possible.
Go out and join in community events and meetings, sporting activities, markets, and service clubs while you are there. Be open to social invitations from colleagues and people you meet outside of work. Take time to explore the local area.
Keeping a journal while you are away is a positive activity that will keep you focused on what you have seen, learnt and discovered.
If you are on placement with other students take the time to get to know them, chances are they will be experiencing similar challenges to you!
A phone call or email to your placement clinical supervisor to introduce yourself is a great opportunity to discuss your placement, ask questions and prepare yourself as best you can before you arrive.
You should try to determine what your expected tasks and caseload will be like by talking to students who have previously done placement there and to your supervisor. You might want to find out about your work hours, uniform/dress code, available facilities for study, who you will be working with, whether there will be other students, whether you need to take anything with you and what is expected of you.
Record the contact details of your placement coordinator/supervisor, University support services and family/friends (ensuring they also have yours!) before you go.
All communities have their own cultural identity. This varies across rural and remote Australia with its mix of mining, farming, tourism and Indigenous culture. As the new kid in town, being respectful and maintaining an open mind is important when on placement.
Remember that flexibility, sensitivity, respect for difference, a non-judgemental approach and optimism will help you develop constructive relationships within a new community. Undertaking Indigenous cultural awareness training before placement can help you too. It is a great way to develop an understanding of Indigenous culture and avoid actions that may offend community members, which can in turn negatively impact on the provision of health care and your experience.
Some universities, Rural Workforce Agencies and workplaces provide Indigenous cultural awareness training. See if this is available to you. Once on the ground, be prepared to listen to advice from Aboriginal Health Workers and experienced local health professionals.