Karla Dickson feels just as much at home in the red dust of Karratha’s surrounds, in remote Western Australia, as she does in the hustle and bustle of the capital city. The first is her work base, a modern accommodation village close to a new gas construction project, and the second is her home back in Perth, with family.

For Karla, this life-work balance is ideal.

As a FIFO (fly-in, fly-out) Nurse Practitioner with Aspen Medical, she says the travelling lifestyle suits her much better than having a job in the city. ‘As a single mother, I now have more quality time with my family than I did when I was working hospital shifts in Perth.

‘Then, I wouldn’t get home until after seven o’clock and have to spend most of my time cleaning and making meals.

‘Now, with two weeks on-site followed by two weeks off, I can give full and unbroken attention to my family as well as to other projects in my free time.’

When Karla is at work, she gives it her all. ‘The shifts are long, 12 hours at a time, but the rewards are there. You build up a close camaraderie with your co-workers.

‘Our role is to provide primary healthcare and also handle emergencies. We have two fully equipped ambulances and one on stand-by.’

Karla’s everyday healthcare can range from workplace injuries to treating general health conditions, such as coughs and colds. ‘We do a lot of preventative work, from giving vaccinations to face-fitting respirators for dusty or potentially hazardous environments.’

Her home away from home is in a well-equipped camp village that features a spacious recreation centre, and swimming pool. ‘I go to the gym every day and have fun at social events such as quiz nights and photography classes.’

Plus, she then gets to spend an uninterrupted two weeks in Perth afterwards.

With some 400 workers on-site, and that number expected to quadruple in the next year, Karla and her team are busy. ‘We have two large, well-serviced clinics; one at the camp accommodation village and the other on the construction site. We work in two teams, alongside other FIFO team members. These include a doctor, physiotherapist, advanced care paramedic, and occupational health nurse.’

She thrives on the challenges. ‘When it’s a 50-degree day and your glasses are fogging up and sweat runs down your body, you need to laugh it off.

‘Aspen Medical respects your time off and avoids calling and interrupting you. So you get to enjoy a good-quality break.

‘And, with a free fortnight, I can do something with substance, now that my two daughters are adults.’

Karla’s latest project, still its early stages, is organising a medical outreach clinic in Yanchep, an outer coastal suburb, some 55 kilometres north of Perth. Baptist Care approached her with this idea.  

‘A lot of families are struggling; with rising living costs, finding employment, and so homelessness is increasing. Many miss out on health care as they can’t afford the GP’s gap fee or buy medicines.’  

So, Karla decided to establish a health clinic, volunteering her services for one day each week of her break.

‘Baptist Care found a company that offered free use of a building. I’m now fully insured and licensed for Medicare bulk-billing under the name of KD Healthcare. This runs independently, under the umbrella of Baptist Church.

‘This is my gift back to the community.’

And Aspen Medical has been supportive, donating $2,500 towards dressings and medical supplies to be spent at Ballardong Medical Pty Ltd, a First Nations owned first aid and medical supplies company based in Perth. They will also match all donations made through the Baptist Church at Yanchep.

Karla is thankful for Aspen Medical’s support and impressed by the company’s broad and diverse services, in Australia and overseas. ‘They’re always approachable and accommodating, such as when I applied for leave to attend a fine-skills suture course.’  

With a rich and diverse background herself, she’s worked in remote area nursing in Western Australia, emergency nursing in South Australian hospitals, and been a safety systems specialist in government departments and gold mines.

‘My message to any single mums out there is to explore new avenues, have your own career, and build on that career.

‘Think outside the box.’

As for Karla, ‘I’m a people person, I really enjoy being with people. I tried management for a while, but I always come back to nursing.

‘I need to be hands-on and face-to-face with patients.

‘My goal is to make a difference in someone’s life, and to put a smile on their face. Then I’m happy.’

Interested in a job like this?

According to Karla, working as nurse practitioner in the remote resources sector, you will need to:

  • enjoy the FIFO lifestyle (Try remote nursing first and see whether you like it,’ she advises.)
  • be adaptable, and happy to work in a team setting
  • have a sense of humour, to see you through challenges
  • be flexible ('It’s a changing environment, with an ever- varying routine.’)
  • have an approachable manner and be a good listener
  • always be learning (‘My emergency and remote experience is a benefit.’)
  • have support systems back in place at home. (‘I have friends I can call on if a child or the nanny is sick.’)

For more information about joining Aspen Medical’s clinical team, email our Recruitment team.                               

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