Sue’s topic, ‘Back from the Edge’ looked at occupational stress among remote area nurses who are the mainstay of health services in these regions. They work in complex and isolated settings that are often cross cultural, and for which they are often inadequately prepared. Their work context and role put them at risk of emotional and physical burnout through excessive workload, personal and professional frustration, lack of social or professional rewards, limited professional support and social and cultural isolation. The frequent turnover of nursing staff has been shown to affect the quality of services due to stress on practitioner performance and the impact of high staff turnover on continuity of care.
With an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant the collaborative study utilised an adapted ‘participatory action research/organisational development’ model to develop and implement occupational stress interventions for remote area nurses in the Northern Territory. The development and attempted implementation of these interventions provide a blueprint for action to reduce occupational stress among remote area nurses. It was the first systematic examination of work stress in the remote area nursing workforce and the first to involve staff and managers in developing interventions in a remote context.
Important evidence generated by the study has been of use to state, territory and Commonwealth governments, employers and professional groups, and will help to reduce occupational stress among remote area nurses and, by doing so, improve the health outcomes for residents of remote Australia.