Feature, Orthoptics Australia

Dispelling myths around regional practice

Orthoptist Alina Sayer says many colleagues are reluctant to relocate to regional communities fearing a lack of support or job satisfaction. Her experience in central Queensland has been to the contrary.

Don’t be misled by the misconception that working outside the comfort and convenience of populous cities can limit the occupational scope or lifestyles of those willing to follow the less chosen path.

The roles and responsibilities available in regional practices are as varied as the communities they serve. From general clinical duties to outreach clinics, surgical assisting and everything in between, the possibilities for development and continuing education in many areas of interest is vast and often encouraged.

My position as a valued member within a diverse and multiskilled team of clinical assistants in a regional private ophthalmology practice has been immensely rewarding as an orthoptist.

After transitioning from working in Melbourne for close to a decade, the move to Rockhampton in Central Queensland has provided many opportunities to increase my professional skillset and deeply explore the multitude of diagnoses under the guidance of an ophthalmologist.

Working regionally has its own unique challenges for servicing the local population which is not experienced on the same scale by our urban counterparts. Not only is patient age and demographic broad and widespread, but the conditions are likely to be more severe and subsequently less likely to have been managed.

This, in many circumstances, is directly related to the burden of accessing appropriate and timely healthcare. It’s not unusual for a patient to travel upwards of 400km one way to attend routine care at the clinic every four weeks for intravitreal therapy, or postpone treatment because they were unable to find suitable transport for the 10-hour round trip to attend the clinic.

In a regional location, patient care encompasses much more than the immediate ophthalmic status or the documentation of what’s visible diagnostically on the slit lamp or OCT.

Alina Sayer.

“There is an overwhelming shortage of skilled orthoptists working in regional areas, despite the clear and obvious demand for our clinical competencies”

A comprehensive and holistic approach is often required, with acknowledgement of the many aspects of the patient’s health and wellbeing forming an integral part of maintaining care, promoting an effective and open dialogue, and thereby improving compliance with management and treatment plans.

It is also an inherent and ever-present necessity to consider the patients’ peripheral circumstances such as locality, ability to obtain transport, family and peer support, and ease of access to health facilities.

Tertiary eyecare resources are often taken for granted in densely populated areas like Melbourne or Sydney, with access to public health facilities and dedicated eye hospitals so readily available. In contrast, this is often a complex and difficult undertaking for many of those living regionally. When an urgent ophthalmic issue arises demanding immediate attention, it is not as straightforward as heading to the city for care at the Eye and Ear Hospital.

The process of accessing care can be a significant logistical challenge that involves juggling the burden of cost and travel, navigating the local public hospital system, care flights and trips to the nearest capital city for vital and often sight-saving inpatient care. This was not something I appreciated prior to my role in Central Queensland.

While having an orthoptist as part of the eye health team is standard practice in metropolitan clinics, there is an overwhelming shortage of skilled orthoptists working in regional areas, despite the clear and obvious demand for our clinical competencies. Many orthoptists are reluctant to relocate fearing they may not receive adequate support, training and direction in an isolated environment. My experience has been to the contrary.

The spectrum of professional orthoptic practice and clinical autonomy intrinsically afforded by many regional orthoptic positions present an ideal opportunity for orthoptists willing to take up the challenge of regional or remote eyecare. The ability to engage with the local community in an effective and meaningful way through patient education, counselling and high-quality care plays an important role in job satisfaction and for ultimately providing a sense of work-related accomplishment.

I would encourage other orthoptists and eye health professionals to explore the multitude of diverse paths and rewarding positions beyond our major capital cities and extend your much-needed expertise within more regional communities.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alina Sayer is an orthoptist working in a regional private ophthalmology practice in Central Queensland. She graduated from La Trobe University with a Bachelor of Orthoptic and Ophthalmic Sciences in 2010.

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