Remote Area Nurses Recognised for Excellence


Outstanding Australian remote health professionals are being celebrated this September with the announcement of the 2021 CRANAplus Award Winners.

CRANAplus, the peak body for remote and isolated health, has been bestowing awards since 2001. This year’s awards recognised four individuals from South Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales and the Northern Territory.

“We congratulate all winners for their outstanding contribution to remote health,” CRANAplus CEO Katherine Isbister said. “The winners are exceptional leaders in their field and have made significant impacts despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The CRANAplus Awards provide an opportunity to promote and celebrate the role of remote area nurses, midwives and health professionals. By commending achievement, we aim to start important conversations that inspire our colleagues, whether they’re student nurses aspiring to work remotely or remote area nurses with many years of experience.”

The highest possible accolade within the remote and isolated health profession, the Aurora Award, this year goes to Terrie “Tess” Ivanhoe.

Described by her colleagues as a “constant inspiration for nursing and midwifery staff”, Ms Ivanhoe has spent the last 11 of her 20 years in remote practice working as a Nurse Practitioner on the Chronic Disease Program at Nganampa Health Council in the APY Lands in north-west South Australia.

Her role involves facilitating visiting specialists and doctors to deliver chronic disease services in a coordinated manner so that clients can access high-quality care “where they feel comfortable” and “in a much timelier manner.”

Throughout the last 18 months, Ms Ivanhoe has also co-led Nganampa’s COVID-19 Pandemic Response across their six large clinics.

“To me my proudest thing is to have provided first-rate care to the best of my ability to Anangu people in a professional way,” Ms Ivanhoe said. “What the Anangu have taught me is to see things from the client’s side. We don’t do that enough in the mainstream. Remote area practice teaches you to seek to understand first.”

“Anything that promotes remote area nursing as a speciality and as a profession is really important. These awards bring the profession to the forefront – not just in the remote area setting, but the whole of Australia. If one other nurse decides they want to be a remote area nurse because of our stories, then I think that’s really important.”

The winner of the 2021 Excellence in Remote and Isolated Health Practice Award, sponsored by James Cook University / Murtupini Centre for Rural & Remote Health, is Helen Parker.

Throughout her 15 years in remote area nursing, Remote Area Nurse and Nurse Practitioner Ms Parker has worked in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and remote Northern Territory, from Central Australia to the Top End. She presently works as a Child Health Nurse with the Mala’la Health Service in Maningrida, NT.

Ms Parker said that upon finding out she had won, “I was overwhelmed, I started crying… I felt really honoured and proud of myself.”

“To get some proper headway or improvements in health, it’s a lot more besides antibiotics and putting a band-aid on,” Ms Parker says. “It’s about taking on the family, the culture, the languages, the way you speak… to be able to give that holistic care.”

The winner of the 2021 Excellence in Education and/or Research Award, sponsored by Flinders University – Rural and Remote Health (CRH), is Dr Kylie McCullough.

Inspired by her earlier experiences as a remote area nurse in Kakadu, Dr McCullough is now a lecturer based at Edith Cowan University in Perth. She has published 7 academic articles and counting on remote health, and in 2018 completed her PhD thesis which established a framework of remote area nursing practice.

“Communities, employers, other nurses and Australians at large really need to understand, value and recognise the contribution nurses are making to the health and wellbeing of communities, and the advanced practice nature of what they’re doing,” Dr McCullough said.

“If we knew that, we would support people more and provide better incentives for going out bush. Our communities would value nurses a bit more – and that’d make a difference to remote health.”

The winner of the 2021 Collaborative Team Award, sponsored by Remote Area Health Corps (RAHC), is the Midwifery Unit of the Coomealla Health Aboriginal Corporation.

Team members include Dr Mainul Khan, Dr Nalin Fonseka, Zoe Andrews (Health Promotions Officer), Wendy Arney (Dietitian), Kiah Howard (Receptionist), Debbie Towns (Midwife), Robert Ritchie (Clinic Team Leader), Timmy Gordon (Aboriginal Mental Health Peer Support Worker), Guy Mitchell (Transport Officer), Justine Williams (Health Services Manager), and Michelle Terrick (Practice Nurse).

The Aboriginal-led Riverland-based midwifery unit in south-west NSW has approximately 2000 clients on its books and recently transitioned to a digital antenatal record following community consultation.

“Ideas need to start from the grassroots, rather than coming from the top-down,” Midwife Debbie Towns said. “We have a little card, or a wallet, that sticks to your mobile phone or similar, then your little USB card will go into there, so all of your pregnancy, you can carry it with your phone.”

Ms Towns identifies the reduced risk of transcription errors and misplacement of records at home, increased family bonding, enhanced privacy, easier sharing of records and results between organisations, the ability to sanitise the card, and the involvement of many individuals (including a local artist) as key benefits.

More about CRANAplus, the peak professional body for remote health

Founded in 1983, CRANAplus is a grassroots, not-for-profit, membership organisation with offices in Cairns, Adelaide, Canberra and Alice Springs, which ensures the delivery of safe, high-quality primary healthcare to remote and isolated areas of Australia.

CRANAplus delivers educational courses contextualised to the remote and isolated setting to upskill the remote health workforce. Its Bush Support Line provides free, confidential, 24-hour counselling to the rural and remote health workforce and their families.

It serves its membership by representing the workforce and advocating for change within the remote health sector, providing scholarship and grant opportunities, facilitating remote health employment, and providing career support and advice.

/Public Release.