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That's a picture of some noisy local residents, these are little corella's, and they're in very large numbers, raucous and sociable in the CBD of Nowra, New South Wales where we're staying whilst Wendy undertakes a short midwifery contract.
I'm Pat and today I've transcribed a conversation with Wendy about midwifery and what it's like being employed on short contracts in rural and outback Australia. It's one of the ways that supports our lifestyle of working for 6 months and doing other stuff for the rest of the year. Sitting on the deck at Terara Park Farm where we're staying, I asked her when and why she started these contracts.
Wendy: “I started in 2007, I guess it was in order to do a bit of clinical up-skilling in a different spot and I wanted to combine my itchy feet and my passion for travel and adventure alongside being a mum and a midwife, and it all sort of fitted the bill”
Pat: “And where was the first contract?”
W: “It was in a little, tiny rural town called Forbes in the centre of New South Wales. I had no idea how to get there, I flew into Sydney and got a bus that ended up in Forbes.”
P: “So what was it like, because in most instances on these contracts, you go on your own and this is only the second time I've been travelling on a midwifery contract with you? What's it like turning up in a small outback rural town?”
W: “Well firstly it's exciting and it's great walking into these little rural hospitals that are obviously struggling because they don't have enough staff, and I've always, without exception, been welcomed with open arms because not only do I fit into the roster and fill up the gaps and do the shifts that nobody else wants to do, or there's nobody to do them, or I can give 200% because I know it's only for a short time. It might be a 4 week, or 6 week, or 8 week contract. I think the longest I've ever done is a 3 month contract, simply extended because I enjoyed it there.
P: “Now you talked about a sense of adventure, because I know there are a number of reasons to do it – the money's quite good and it keeps your professional practice up – but the thing that really interests me is the adventure side of things because, in a way, it's enabled us to have this lifestyle that we have now which is trying to work 6 months of the year and do other adventurous stuff the other 6 months. So what is it, why adventure, why is that important to you?”
W: “Well there's a great big world out there, and I'm not the youngest spring chicken in the world any-more and I want to see it all before I can't. Everyday I get emails from the 2 different agencies that I work for offering me jobs all over Australia, and I could just pick and choose where I want to go because the area sounds interesting or the job sounds interesting or hopefully, like in this case in Nowra, in Shoalhaven, it's been a beautiful spot to explore on my days off, but it's also been a very interesting job with great people."
P: “And I know you're very passionate about midwifery, and you're very passionate about some of the issues around midwifery in particular how short staffed some of the hospitals are and the difficulty it is for young women, particularly, to become trained.”
W: “Yes it constantly bugs me that throughout my career, and I've been doing this for about 38 years now, throughout my career I've come across so many young intelligent women, that may have families or not, who would absolutely love to become a midwife but they can't afford it. It's a 3 year degree programme now that costs in excess of $20,000. They would have to give up their job, they would have to find childcare and they would have to dish out the $20,000 for the fees for the degree, and they just can't do it financially. Our health system is suffering, and every contract I go to, and there are thousands of midwifery contracts out there all over Australia, every contract I go to are short of midwives, and 53% of midwives in Australia are 50 years and over. So come on young women, so come on Government do something about it.”
P: “Going back to travel, what in the last 9 years has been one of the highlights? You've been doing these for 9 years, one or two per year, what's the highlight?”
W: “I've counted, I've actually done 13 different contracts in 13 different areas across Australia in the last 9 years. Every location has it's own individuality and uniqueness and pro's and cons. So I would go back to some (and some I have gone back to) and some I absolutely wouldn't go back to to work there. Some highlights well – in a very rural hospital in the centre of Queensland a flying doctor plane was diverted to us instead of being diverted to a very large secondary unit on the coast, and they brought with it a young woman in very, very premature labour. Our little local rural facility didn't have any facilities for premature babies of that gestation. It was an amazing team effort – the plane landed, the woman was escorted into the hospital by the paramedics and all of the staff crawled out of the woodwork, out of their beds even though they weren't on call. We had an amazing elderly obstetrician, who had flown in from Brisbane to cover the hospital for 2 weeks. The result of that woman going into labour at a dangerously premature gestation – it was just fantastic and really emotional to see the outcome.”
P: “Which was positive for both mum and babe?”
W: “Yes, absolutely, after the birth they were both transferred (sniff) to Brisbane'”
P: “Thanks Wend, you're obviously so, so passionate about midwifery and what you can do to help people.”
W: “Thank you.”
That's a transcript of a conversation with Wendy talking about midwifery, her passion and compassion coming through at the end of the conversation. It seems wrong that enthusiastic and capable people can't train to become midwives because of financial barriers at a time when there is such a shortfall in staff and with an ageing workforce. We're certainly always going to need midwives.
To hear this conversation click here.