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As most of us are heading off to bed, a new world is opening up for registered nurse Glenda George, on night shift in an aged care facility.

She recently completed a five-week locum placement in the small town of Kojonup, in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt, for Australian Government-funded Rural Locum Assistance Program (Rural LAP).

An experienced remote and rural practitioner, Glenda enjoys the lifestyle this work provides. ‘It gives me both independence and flexibility. I can choose the times I’m available and then pack up and go to a new and unique environment.’ The application process and straightforward transfer from her home 70 kilometres out of Sydney to her placement location was coordinated by Rural LAP.

‘I flew directly to Perth, picked up the hire car and drove some four hours to Kojonup. It was a smooth and easy transition, both there and back.’

It’s an ideal career for Glenda, whose husband is a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) worker in mining.

She says her work gives her a sense of purpose. ‘I want to make a difference in a rural or remote setting where the isolation may make recruitment difficult. Many potential applicants don’t like having limited cafes and restaurants, and being away from family and friends.

‘I am at ease in my own company and appreciate looking at beautiful landscapes, such as the magnificent sunrise at Kojonup.

The town appreciates and respects their locum staff and includes us in community events.’

What makes Glenda’s work fulfilling is the contact with extraordinary individuals.

‘I love getting to know the life stories of the residents, as they have incredible skills and life experience. One wheat farmer also drove road trains full of grain hurtling down the highway. And the women are resilient with a “can do” attitude. You’ll see them flying light aircraft over properties and, if a tractor breaks down, they’re up on it, sorting out the mechanics.’

Working in the rural and remote sector has shown Glenda first-hand the geographical and socio-economic challenges faced by those living there. ‘It’s certainly an eye opener seeing what people face on a daily basis.’

Glenda’s community spirit extends beyond her work.

She’s been a volunteer firefighter for rural New South Wales since 2004. ‘We run into fires while the public runs away from them.

‘We’re well-trained but fire has its own mind and can be catastrophic. You can lose your life.’ Yet she wants to help, especially after a fire almost destroyed her own property and many people came to fight it. ‘These days I also have a program training young Aboriginal women [to be firefighters].’

With qualifications in remote health nursing and mental health, Glenda can also carry out depression and cognition assessments alongside basic care interventions. ‘I care for some of the most vulnerable Australians at the end of their lives, in palliative care.’

She’s worked in aged care facilities throughout New South Wales for other organisations and, while she admits aged care can be hard work, the rewards outweigh the challenges.

With a shortage of nurses Australia-wide, there are opportunities to join Glenda, and others like her, and make a difference.

Rural LAP National Manager, Jessica Andrew, says ‘We’re focused on ensuring continuity of care and clinical leadership in locations that have difficulty hiring. We work with fantastic, hardworking locums and lovely clients.’

Ciara O’Regan, Manager of Springhaven Lodge where Glenda worked, can vouch for that.

‘Rural LAP provides a valuable service. It’s very much needed and Glenda was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. She was keen and experienced, respectful and flexible.

She went above and beyond in getting to know the residents and the team members.’

It’s a win-win situation.

Rural LAP is a locum assistance program for health and aged care services across rural and remote Australia. The Australian Governmentfunded program supports eligible aged care workers, nurses, midwives, obstetricians, anaesthetists, and allied health professionals that undertake continuing professional development or go on personal leave by providing a seamless start-to-finish locum service.

Since the pandemic and the impact of workforce shortages nationwide, the program has seen a significant increase in locum requests across rural and remote Australia. In March 2022, the Australian Government expanded Rural LAP to include eligible rural and remote aged care services.

Established in June 2011 under the Australian Government’s rural workforce capacity agenda, the program has helped thousands of health professionals take a much needed and well deserved break.