Get to know your College: Rashmi Sirisena, 4th year Medicine student, Nhulunbuy

Narra yaku Rashmi (my name is Rashmi) and I am a 4th year Flinders university medical student, currently based in Nhulunbuy. Five months ago, I jetted off to the other side of the country – leaving behind my fear of sharks and replacing it with a new fear of salt water crocs. I didn’t know anyone or what Nhulunbuy even really looked like – only photos I’d found on Google images!

After my year on the Flinders 3rd year PRCC program I was intrigued by what else was out there in remote Australia. On my flight over, I had 20kg of my life contained in a suitcase and the fantastic memories of others who had already been – this had put me in good stead as I envisioned a place enriched in Aboriginal Yolŋu culture with a backdrop of bright pink and deep orange sunsets.

Nhulunbuy is a town in East Arnhem Land and home to the Yolŋu Aboriginal people. Approximately 10,000 people live in East Arnhem Land, of which, about 8000 are Aboriginal people. The Yolŋu culture is a thriving culture with a deep sense of land, family and language. During my placement I have been based in Gove District Hospital, which services all of East Arnhem Land.

While on this placement I have been fortunate to get to know people from all across East Arnhem Land. I’ve learnt bits about their grandparents, brothers, sisters and children and fumbled my way through their language as they patiently try and teach me phrases. Most of all I’ve been able to see the importance of family and culture to their way of life.

During this period of COVID-19, I have stayed in Nhulunbuy for my Obstetrics & Gynaecology and general medical rotations. My O&G rotation allowed me to get to know several Yolŋu women who would come into hospital for ‘sit down’ (remote Aboriginal women arrive at the hospital from 38 weeks and wait until they go into labour) – in fact, the relationships I was able to forge with these women brought many of the highlights of my time here.

Other highlights that spring to mind include bonfires with damper and potatoes thrown in, camping out under the stars and driving along the untouched landscapes of Cape Arnhem.

For my future professional practice, my time in Nhulunbuy has put Aboriginal health in the forefront of my mind. There is an evident discrepancy in health outcomes and this has saddened me. In terms of my clinical skills, it has emphasised the importance of communication, whether that be bringing in an interpreter or sitting down and talking family first before delving into a clinical explanation.

For me, the future of rural and remote health looks bright – especially when they are mentored by the current workforce. I imagine it to be filled with rural generalists, nurses, allied health and visiting specialists all investing their time and effort in bridging the health gap.

I recommend all students to strongly consider coming up to Nhulunbuy and seeing for yourself what this special place has to offer. My advice is to take a leap of faith and get out of your comfort zone because you won’t be disappointed.


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