A close-up view of eye health in remote Australia

Georgie Oakman

Georgie Oakman, a final year medical student from the University of Melbourne recently spent four weeks on clinical placement in the ophthalmology department at  the Alice Springs Hospital (ASH), supported by Flinders NT.

Georgie saw an incredible variety of ocular pathologies, including advanced diabetic retinopathy (sadly in relatively young patients), acute glaucoma, foreign bodies, orbital fractures, anterior uveitis, endophthalmitis and retinal detachments.

“Before starting”, she says, “I could barely turn on a slit lamp and thought I was doing well if I could glimpse a blood vessel with the ophthalmoscope (let alone find the optic disc). However, spending a morning in the ASH outpatient eye clinic was like reading the contents page of the Oxford Handbook of Ophthalmology”.

“Many patients had conditions that I’m unlikely to see outside of the Northern Territory, such as blindness secondary to recurrent trachoma infections or irritant keratitis caused by the bodily fluids of a local brown marmorated stink bug”, said Georgie.

Georgie’s placement gave her an insight into some of the challenges associated with access to healthcare in rural and remote Australia. She also had the unique opportunity to attend an outreach clinic in a remote Indigenous community. This involved loading all of the eye clinic equipment onto a light aircraft and flying out to Laramba, a community of approximately 250 people located north-west of Alice Springs.

“Despite an outback dust storm and Laramba airport’s very short runway, this experience was one of the highlights of my time in Central Australia”, says Georgie.

An additional benefit of undertaking a placement in Alice Springs is the beauty of the surrounding region and Georgie was lucky enough to spend her weekends exploring the West MacDonnell Ranges, Uluru, King’s Canyon and Palm Valley.  She says, “One Sunday, I braved the heat to hike a section of the iconic Larapinta Trail.

“I also stayed in the Flinders University accommodation which was a great way to meet other visiting students from a variety of health disciplines.

“My month in Central Australia was an excellent capstone experience for my medical degree. It taught me an enormous amount about ophthalmology, but also about public health, Australian history and Indigenous culture. I’m sure this knowledge will be invaluable as I start my medical career as an intern next year. I’m very grateful to all the staff in the eye department at ASH for creating such a welcoming environment for students. I hope I’ll be back in the Red Centre at some point in my future medical career!”

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Centre for Remote Health (CRH) Flinders NT Remote and Rural Interprofessional Placement Learning NT (RIPPL NT) Student Placements