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Physiotherapy in central Australia
26 April 2017
More than 25 years living and working in central Australia has offered many rewarding career opportunities for Annie Farthing, APAM; none more so than working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote locations. Since arriving in the Northern Territory in 1992, Annie has worked in urban community health, rehabilitation, remote allied health practice and aged care. She graduated as a physiotherapist in 1989, and encourages others to follow her lead in becoming an allied health professional working in remote areas.
‘I became a physiotherapist as I had the altruistic idea of wanting to help others,’ she says. ‘And when you are working in remote areas, you really do get more opportunity to make a difference as there is no hierarchical hospital structure that you might find elsewhere.’
She first worked in a remote area in Canada not long after graduating, then returned to Melbourne and on to central Australia. In 2012, Annie joined Centre for Remote Health (CRH), and is keen to increase the number of student placements to the area. CRH is a joint development of the Department of Rural Health at Flinders University and Charles Darwin University to oversee the placement of students from nursing, physiotherapy and occupational therapy into remote clinics and hospitals. Annie is on the frontline of recruitment, developing and coordinating the placements in a region where demographic and geographic features greatly influence health issues and the way services can be delivered.
‘We are talking remote, not rural, but it is a rewarding career as you really develop your skills as an allied health professional, not just as a physiotherapist,’ Annie notes. ‘Because you are working within a small team, you need to be hands-on and aware of what other professionals need to do their job—so students need to be skilled and comfortable with working in a multi-disciplinary practice,’ she says. ‘You also live, work and play in a small community. I really love that the client you may be seeing could also be the person you are playing netball against—it helps keep us real.’
Annie also lectures in primary healthcare, allied health, disabilities and dementia, and delivers the ‘Introduction to Central Australian Aboriginal Cultures and Context’ course to students. The course highlights how the social determinants of health shape people’s lives in central Australia, she says.
As a champion for recognising and responding to dementia in remote and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, Annie knows not everyone will share her passion for life in central Australia.
‘It’s a big challenge attracting students here and finding more physiotherapy placements. To encourage rural students to come here, there needs to be greater funding to enable them to live and work here for six weeks, while still paying for rent where they are studying,’ she says. ‘But it is a rewarding opportunity to come here, drive hundreds of kilometres to a remote area to help a patient and their family.’
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One physiotherapist with a vision—and a new multidisciplinary clinic— is determined to improve the healthcare that’s available to residents of Arnhem Land.
Working in Central Australia
Annie Farthing, APAM, has lived and worked in Central Australia since 1992, giving her special insights into the day-to-day of a remote area health professional.