Students test their skills in a remote town under COVID lockdown

Two Flinders University students recently found themselves on the frontline of COVID-19 when they put their hands up to help at a walk-in testing clinic in Katherine.

Nutrition and Dietetics students Charlotte Manning, 22, and Claire Wu, 24, were half-way through their seven-week placement in community and public health when the town went into lockdown.

“We were at home in lockdown working on collating the data we had collected from our assessments when our industry supervisor called to ask if we would like to volunteer,” said Ms Manning, who is in the final year of her Masters.

The two students, who are both from Adelaide, jumped at the chance.

“We weren’t expecting to be on the frontline but it was an incredible experience to be a part of the other end of public health which is responding to a pandemic,” said Ms Manning. “You don’t get to learn about these sorts of things from a textbook or classroom.”

Ms Wu, who is also in her final year, agreed. “I was so grateful to have the opportunity to observe what the frontline in the COVID-19 pandemic is like.

“I was happy to assist and to help keep the community of Katherine safe.”

Both students spent two days assisting as part of the surge staffing response from Katherine and Darwin at the Katherine walk-in testing clinic.

They were given training on how to wear the personal protective equipment (PPE), where they were shown how to gown up and put on gloves, the face shield and a mask.

“Once we were prepared, we then worked with the teams assisting them with the swabbing kits, taking them out of their kits,” said Ms Manning.

“Each team would work outside for around 30 minutes, then we’d switch to inside the clinic where we assisted the admin team.”

Their industry supervisor, Hannah Lanham, a Public Health Nutritionist with NT Health, said the young women were outstanding. “The demand for testing picked up so quickly and any extra assistance was appreciated. It was wonderful that we could provide a unique experience for the students while on placement.”

While Ms Manning admitted “it was really hot outside” and the days were “long and tiring”, she said the experience “was incredibly rewarding”.

“It was fantastic to be part of such a great team. Everyone looked out for each other, made sure we were all properly hydrated and rested.”

On their return to Adelaide, both students went into quarantine for 14 days. “The two of us know what it’s like from both sides,” said Ms Manning.

“Being in Katherine has given me a taste of what it’s like working in rural and remote health and once I graduate it’s definitely an avenue I’d consider pursuing.”

Flinders University encourages students who are sent on placements as part of their studies to consider a career path in rural and remote health in the Territory.

Flinders Rural and Remote Health Dean Professor Robyn Aitken said the university has been recognised for positively impacting communities in the Territory.

“As a leader in remote health we are proud to achieve this through education and research, working in partnership with health services, remote communities and organisations in the Territory and beyond,” she said.

“Our focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, rural and remote health, and the development of a ‘home-grown’ health care workforce in rural and remote communities is a clear strength.

“It is heartening to hear about students becoming so involved in community health and considering pursuing a career in health in the unique context of the Northern Territory. We know from students participating in our recent research that 81 per cent were positively influenced by their placement to return to work in the Northern Territory.”

Flinders University also deliver the Flinders NT Medical Program (NTMP), rural and remote workforce education for undergraduate and postgraduate nursing and allied health professionals, and support specialty doctor training pathways.

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