The Life of a Travelling Country Nurse

Lauri Buckingham - Registered Nurse
Pitcure from left to right: Cath, Lauri, Joy, Barb, Kelly and Christy

I have been working as a rural and remote locum for over two years now and I absolutely love it!

My previous nursing experience was working in a busy rural hospital, where I had been serving as Nurse Unit Manager (NUM) for seven years, but eventually felt that the burden of administration swamped the joy and satisfaction of my job. After stepping down briefly I found I needed new challenges and new horizons.

Prior to my management position, I had worked in Saudi Arabia, high in the mountains at a place called Khamis Mushyat, as a NUM for a busy 40 bed paediatric ward. That certainly was stimulating and challenging but too far away from home.

The years before my position in Saudi Arabia I mainly worked in specialty areas including ICU, Paediatrics and ED around the major hospitals in Sydney.

One of my colleagues snagged my interest in NAHRLS, an Australian Government funded locum support program, after relaying the wonderful experiences she was having whilst working for them for a few months. My problem was that I had cats and horses on a rural property that I felt committed to care for. Fortunately, I found a great friend who agreed to house sit, setting the wheels to roll in a new life.

After a thorough professional assessment by the programs credentialing team I found myself on my first placement.

I did not know what to expect but was amazed by the efficiency of travel arrangements, car hire and general preparations. It was done with military precision then and every experience since has been marked by the same incredible care and efficiency.

However, my first placement was not the happiest experience, mainly due to the intrinsic atmosphere of the hospital and the poor onsite accommodation, but before I knew it I was off to another location with marvellous accommodation and splendid hospital morale.

At this point I was really struck by the overwhelming feeling of being 100% supported by the team, not only in regards to organising travel and accommodation, but in the way they made you feel they were one call away and ready to assist in anyway necessary to make your experience as positive and supported as possible. It is a quality, sadly, no longer experienced when working with large institutions. Yet that sense of being valued cultivates loyalty, conscientious commitment and deep job satisfaction. Therefore, it was such a delight to rediscover this with NAHRLS!

The team do not realise how nourishing their support is and just how much the quality of their locums’ performance flows from them.

One of the important lessons I learnt very quickly was the importance of first impressions and reassurance when first arriving at a new site. Many sites are reliant on other agency staff and are nervous when yet another unknown arrives at their door.

My mantra is “the first three days are critical to turn the mood around completely”. Working hard, diligence and a clear message of preparedness to take on anything soon transforms looks of uncertainty into extended feelings of appreciation and welcome.

The best aspect of this is that, when you return (which invariably you will), the welcome hits the ground running, as do you.

One of the great pleasures I also find in this career is that, because it involves working with nurses all over the country, I have repeated experiences of inspiration at meeting so many genuinely lovely people. Nurses, after all, are some of the nicest people you are ever likely to meet, and meeting them everywhere is delightful. It is endlessly fascinating to discover the great diversity of nursing backgrounds, both privately and professionally.

Another great treat is the unforeseen opportunity to discover the plethora of little unknown country towns in this great sunburnt land that I never dreamed existed. Along the journey to placement, and particularly on days off, I am liberated to fossick along all the bi-ways and highways and discover incredible little towns and villages that are often frozen in time. If you have a passion for nostalgia, this lifestyle is an insatiable feast for seeing rural historical Australia.

In conventional life, I would never know of or let alone be able to explore parts of the enormous tapestry of towns and villages that pepper this vast continent. Sometimes it feels as if I am exploring a dream in which bi-gone rural Australia unravels its secrets endlessly towards the dusty horizon as I motor along, new contract underarm, to discover yet another hidden little countryside.

To my delight I have discovered a great resurgence in many of these little communities brought on by the great Australian Grey Nomad mobilisation soon to become, no doubt, a part of great folk legend.

In the middle of winter last year, while housed in a cabin on stilts overlooking the big river in Batemans Bay, a most curious event was unravelling. I noted the foreground, stretching in front of the row of cabins, was the site of a continuing stream of Winnebago caravans and the like.

The occupants of these mobile homes would invariably stay for a few days and then move on. “Ah” I would think to myself, “I am about to gain an unspoiled vista of the river”. Not for long. No sooner had one left but another took its place. I was astounded that such a heavy traffic of campers should be holidaying in the heart of the coldest season. After a while I noted the similarity in this cascade of activity, a grey haired man and woman generally a bit overweight and usually accompanied by a small white dog. The momentum of this travelling throng struck home. This was the rejuvenating force that is striking life back into so many little towns all over Australia.

Rather than being a burden to society, a message often echoed in political sentiments, retired folk are bringing many parts of the country back to life.

I am still working for NAHRLS, and still loving it, poised and enthusiastic to see what other hidden gems will be uncovered, both at work and in the environments that I explore, that are all part of the life for a travelling country nurse.