Townsville born-and-bred, Riley Mitchell is a Master of Occupational Therapy student currently in her third year of studies at Flinders University in Adelaide.
An experience of working with children with disabilities influenced Riley’s decision to study OT. “For my gap year, I worked at a summer camp in the USA that was for people with disabilities. I absolutely loved my experience and that is what helped me decide to study occupational therapy,” she says.
As part of her degree, Riley is undertaking an eight-week work-based learning placement at Desert Therapy, an occupational therapy practice in Alice Springs, where she works with National Insurance Disability Scheme (NDIS) participants.
The clinic is based in Alice Springs and provides services in rural and remote locations in the NT and SA, which offers her an opportunity to visit the less travelled corners of Australia. “I have the opportunity to work with children in a clinical context which I have found extremely beneficial. It’s a very fun area to work in, and so far, I have loved it”.
Her placement has also opened up new avenues to up-skill and gain hands-on professional experience. “I have always wanted to have unique experiences which have led me to traveling, working, and volunteering in a range of places in Australia and around the world. This is a major factor that influenced me to seek out a clinical placement in the NT,” says Riley. “I knew that a rural placement location would provide me with a range of experiences that would enhance my education and learning towards becoming an OT. Furthermore, placement in the NT would allow me to have an in-depth experience with Indigenous people and health.”
As part of her placement, Riley has enrolled in training and workshops to expand on her knowledge of Aboriginal culture that will enable her to work effectively with her Indigenous clients. “The Introduction to Central Australian Aboriginal Cultures and Context course is delivered by Flinders NT staff at Centre for Remote Health in Alice Springs. The course highlights the social determinants of health and other factors that attribute to Aboriginal Health,” says Barbara Richards, Academic Lead and one of the course facilitators. “It enables the student on placement in the Central region to gain an insight and understanding of the rich Aboriginal culture.”
Thanks to the workshops and the subsidised student accommodation, Riley was able to make new friends who – like her – made the NT their temporary new home. “I met a range of other students on my first day at the cultural awareness workshop who are nurses and dieticians. We have been able to get out to the West MacDonnell Ranges together and to multiple events around Alice.”
Riley’s placement offered her an opportunity to discover a new culture and lifestyle and embark on an exciting journey through Central Australia. “So far, I have travelled throughout the Utopia Homelands, flew to Docker River, spent a week in Tennant Creek (where I volunteered for a colour run) and a week throughout the APY lands. These are some of the most remote areas in Australia and I have been able to work with clients out in community. I have been very privileged to have experienced this so early in my career,” she says.
All of the new experiences as well as exposure to a broad range of skills made her realise that coming to the NT was the right decision. “I have had the opportunity to do work that I never would be able to in Adelaide. These experiences will further my learning and experience as an Occupational Therapist and be invaluable in my future career.”
To anyone considering coming to the NT on a placement, Riley says: “The lifestyle in the NT, especially in Alice Springs, is a lot more casual. Therefore, you need to have a sense of flexibility in your work. This is especially relevant when out in remote communities: it is a very different style of practice. It may not be for everyone, but I genuinely loved the experience of seeing how OT and healthcare in general is provided in remote areas.”