RFDS mental health clinician Mick Keane

Graphic: RFDS mental health clinician Mick Keane

A student placement with the RFDS led to Mick landing his dream job

Date published

20 Feb 2024

Having grown up in the suburbs of Melbourne, working as a mental health clinician in the Central Desert of Australia is a whole new world for Mick Keane.

However, in his final year of social work studies, a sense of adventure and ambition drove the 28-year-old to pursue a student placement out of the ordinary.

“I always thought the RFDS was just for doctors and nurses,” he said.

“So, when I first learned of the opportunity to join the RFDS Mental Health & Wellbeing team, I jumped at the chance.”

As a youngster, Mick often visited rural relatives, where he gained an appreciation for the importance of healthcare access out bush.

“I’ve got an uncle who’s a cattle farmer and cousins who live with him on a rural station,” he said.

“Having been to their properties over the years and being aware of the remoteness, their living situation means healthcare services just aren’t readily available.

“So now, to be going out and providing this care to people in remote areas is a real passion and something I’ve wanted to do.”

RFDS mental health clinician Mick Keane
Photo: Mick with the RFDS team at Willowra School in the NT.

Every week, the RFDS Mental Health & Wellbeing team based in Alice Springs hits the road or the sky to visit Central Desert communities, offering one-on-one support, running group activities and spreading awareness.

Mick shadowed the team during his three-month student placement, visiting dozens of remote communities.

Putting his education into practice, he began combining his clinical mental health skills with his learnings of unique local and cultural contexts.

“On my second day I was lucky enough to fly out to the remote community of Ampilatwatja and immediately felt like I was part of an important health care team,” he said.

“Listening is a powerful skill, particularly here in the bush. And even silence – allowing someone to think about what they’re saying and affording them a few more moments to expand on an answer – is really powerful.

“As a mental health clinician particularly in a remote setting, we don’t want to dominate the discourse. We want to allow clients to tell their story and that’s a useful skill I’ve learned in community.”

RFDS mental health clinician Mick Keane
Photo: RFDS Graduate Mental Health Clinician Mick Keane.

Following the completion of his final placement, Mick successfully applied for a job at the RFDS and has now joined the team as a Graduate Mental Health Clinician.

He is enjoying the challenge that comes with the autonomy of working as a remote clinician.

“The best part of the role is the unpredictability – it’s not a big city or big service where you can lean on lots of stakeholders. You have to rely on your own knowledge and skills,” he said.

“There are so many opportunities when it comes to developing social work in the Territory. We are still building resources and mental health literacy in communities, which often means going back to basics.

“The plan is to just keep raising awareness about what mental health is – what it looks like if you’re not feeling okay and unpacking anxiety and depression.”

Mick said he would love to see more students heading rural and remote as they complete their studies – not only because it provided so much to communities with so little, but because of the extra opportunities that aren’t always afforded in a city setting.

“I think it’s really important for students to think outside the box when it comes to placements."

“In rural communities, there’s a real need for it as services and resources are limited, meanwhile the opportunities and the learning experiences you get out of it personally are numerous," he said.

“I’m so fortunate to have secured employment with the RFDS post placement. This is the opportunity of a lifetime and there’s a real sense of pride and privilege.”

Mick enjoying some downtime with some RFDS colleagues Trent, Sam and Joh.
Photo: Mick enjoying some downtime with RFDS colleagues Trent, Sam and Joh.

For further information about student placements with RFDS SA/NT, please contact: peopleandculture@flyingdoctor.net.