Thriving on your rural placement amidst challenging times

ensuring bALance on placement

What YOU can do for yourself

Venturing out on a rural placement can often be overwhelming, making one wonder how they will manage the weeks ahead, especially as the world tries to navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 virus. As with most of life’s stressors, adhering to some basic principles of self-discipline will support you to move through your placement confidently and calmly. ‘Self-discipline! I hear you say….’that surely is no fun!’. Well on the contrary – as this self-discipline refers to ensuring you remain disciplined on those things that YOU ENJOY and that YOU BENEFIT from.

Firstly, routine. Often when one finds oneself in a different environment there is a tendency to change ones normal routines. Routine is a principle which helps us cope as we know what is coming next and we feel a sense of relief from having completed those daily tasks which we find meaningful. If you are someone who normally goes to play sport after a day at University then try to find a way to exercise after a day on placement. This may be through joining a local sports club, finding a colleague who you can join for a cycle or, in our current challenge with the COVID-19 virus taking oneself for a run or walk.

Secondly, keeping up social contact. You may initially feel the impact of being far from those whom you enjoyed having daily conversation and laughter with, so put in place a regular phone time to catch up with those who you are close to. It may be a weekly call on a certain day to a grandparent or a daily facetime to a best friend. Placement is also a time to meet new friends and expand your social network. Remember that other students or new staff will be feeling the same as you do in this new setting, so initiating a conversation to share information that you have found useful in your new environment could be the start of a valuable new relationship.

Thirdly, eating well. On placement the new environment, expectations in the workplace and challenge of being far from home can leave one initially feeling depleted and present the temptation to opt for easy less nutritious meals. Let making dinner count as part of your relaxation time and set yourself the challenge of ensuring that you include as many of the food groups as you usually would.

Find out about local vegetable gardens with free vegetables on offer for example at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Rural Health campuses. It may work well to draw up a roster with a fellow student to take turns to prepare a meal so that you keep those important nutrients coming your way. Keeping your body healthy will help you stay well and give you the energy which placement requires.

Fourthly, prioritising relaxing activities. As health professionals and health professional students we are often under a large amount of stress so it is important to STOP and take time to invest in ourselves. A relaxing activity is that which is certain to provide you with a sense of reward and accomplishment. For me it is picking up some knitting needles or playing the piano.  For you it may be reading a relaxing novel, building a puzzle, trying a new craft or maybe even seeing if there is an opportunity to start a local vegetable garden. This is not a time for devices, online gaming, Facebook etc. as these activities could be relaxing but could also be frustrating! So identify that one activity which you will prioritise whilst one placement even if it is only for one hour, twice a week, it will be time well spent investing in yourself.

Lastly, keep hold of perspective whilst on placement. The time you are on your rural placement forms a relatively small percentage of your whole degree. You have this small amount of time to learn as much as you can about healthcare in rural Australia. Whether you choose to work rurally one day or choose to work in a metro area, the time you have on your rural placement will equip you for a lifetime of understanding the needs of the clients you work with who come from a rural setting.

You are developing a unique but essential set of skills. When one can see the purpose in, the activity one is engaging in then one is able to grab the opportunity with both hands and not see it as a burden. You are playing an important role in developing a future Nursing and Allied health workforce that is responsive to the health needs of all Australians, something a nation can be extremely thankful for.

Charmaine Swanson

Mental Health Occupational Therapist and Going Rural Health Community Placement Co-ordinator, Ballarat