Journey to the Centre of the Country
Head to the Australian outback as Orthoptics student Stacey reflects on her placement in Broken Hill.
Emus running wild. Orange dirt. Tumbleweeds hurtling across the highway. Just a couple of words to describe the quaint city of Broken Hill, a cool 1143 km away from Sydney. I was lucky enough to go with my friend and fellow student, Serena, to visit for a few weeks as part of my university degree.
Rural, interstate or international placement is a compulsory part of the Master of Orthoptics program held at UTS. A block placement in a region outside of Sydney allows you to develop a rapport with the staff at the site, apply your skills more comprehensively and experience a diverse setting to standard metropolitan locations.
After a 14-hour drive, we arrived at our home for the next two weeks. We went to Broken Hill Hospital, which was, as you may have guessed, quite small in comparison to any CBD hospital I had been to. The eye clinic there only had one nurse and one registrar, so as the only orthoptists in the area, we were pretty valuable!
The patients you see at Broken Hill are like a box of Favourites compared to the city, where it is more likely to be a bag of Maltesers – basically, there is a lot of variety.
My first patient was a baby with a suspected eye turn. I felt very apprehensive; I hadn’t assessed a baby alone before. But alas it all worked out, and I got some practice I might not have experienced elsewhere. The last patient I saw was a child with a really rare condition related to fluid at the back of the eye, called idiopathic choroidal neovascularisation. The doctor had never observed this before, and none of his colleagues had either! The patients we dealt with were all very friendly and understanding, especially considering we were still learning.
Broken Hill is a small enough town that you would often see your patients walking down the main street on the weekend. One highlight of the trip was visiting the town of Wilcannia, which is 200km east of Broken Hill. The hospital performs outreach clinics to rural areas including Wilcannia and Menindee, fortnightly. At Wilcannia Hospital we performed diabetic eye checks on many of the Indigenous patients in the area.
Outside of placement, we watched the outback sunset, which was a surreal experience. We managed to come last at Trivia at the Sturt Pub, which was a full house on a Tuesday night. We watched the parade for the annual Broken Heel Festival, a tribute to Priscilla – Queen of the Desert. There is a certain peace and quiet to Broken Hill, and other rural cities that you really appreciate.
Going on rural placement to the middle of the outback opens your eyes to another world. You get a hands-on experience, see a different demographic of patients and become more independent in your practice. You also get the chance to immerse yourself in a place you might otherwise never have visited. So, take a chance and sign up for rural placement if you can. I promise you won’t regret it!