Graphic: women with horses

women with horses

Helping isolated women stay healthy

Being able to access appropriate health checks is not easy when you're working and living in a remote area. For women, particularly young women, having a female nurse can be a lifeline when you're far from home.The RFDS SE Sections' Jacqueline Noble, a women's and child family health nurse and midwife, knows the particular difficulties women can face on isolated stations.

"Women are expected to just get on with it. There are a lot of pressures on the land, with drought and financial issues and there's little time for 'female issues'; even if you're pregnant you're expected to just fit in and not be a problem. This is OK if everything is normal but if you're having a difficult pregnancy you need more support, wherever you live.

"It's also important that young women are able to access Pap smears to help ensure early detection of cervical cancer.

"Being able to do bush clinics at isolated stations is really important in providing assistance for women who may feel that they can only confide in another woman and can be reluctant to discuss some issues with male doctors or nurses.

"A lot of places don't have mobile phone reception, so you've got to use the homestead phone. A young woman in the city can just call on her mobile at a time and place where she can have privacy, or she can see her mum or her girlfriends and figure things out. I need to phone after hours when people are back at the homestead to be able to contact them."

Jacqueline Noble is just one of a team of RFDS health professionals who can support women during pregnancy and for their regular screening needs including Pap smears and breast checks. The RFDS SE section is fortunate to have several female GPs, including one with additional training in obstetrics.

"I've always been interested in an agricultural career," says Maidie, who is the youngest of six children. "When I finished year 12 I hadn't decided on what university courses I wanted to do so I decided that I'd take a couple of years to work on a station and now I'm off to university at Wagga Wagga next year. It's been a great experience out here."

These female medical professionals are particularly appreciated by young women like Maidie Dawson, who has worked at Innamincka Station for the past two years. Maidie, 20, grew up on a small beef farm in Victoria. Maidie, whose days are spent mustering, fencing, clearing yards and doing all the other work involved with large properties is right at home on horseback. But when it came time for her to have her first Pap smear, she was very nervous.

"But when I met Jacqueline on her visit she made me feel really comfortable," she says. "She's also great to talk to about anything. But if she wasn't available I think I might have left things unchecked."

"I was really touched when Maidie thanked me," says Jacqueline. "I always try to build a rapport with my patients, and that's particularly important with the younger ones who might otherwise not follow through with things. At 20, you can think you're bullet proof. But health checks are always important."