Written by Barb Corapi
Lightning Ridge is best known for its history as an opal mining town and even today is the main source of the rare and highly prized black opal.
Situated in north-western New South Wales close to the Queensland border it is the land of the Yuwaaleraay and Gamilaraay people.
The remote town recently welcomed medical students from the Australian National University (ANU) to undertake their clinical placements as part of their training. The Rural Clinical School and the Indigenous Health team are working with Rural and Remote Medical Services to provide further placements in Western New South Wales in 2022, with a focus on involvement with local communities and Aboriginal Health.
Students Katie Dahl and Chloe Kummer experienced five weeks of life in Lightning Ridge, immersed in the community and the medical practice.
“The community were enthusiastic to have fresh faces around and wanted to tell us all about their town, and the doctors were very generous with their time,” explained Ms Dahl.
In a town where there is little access to specialist services, the general practitioners of Lightning Ridge need to be adept at managing complex cases without the resources of bigger cities.
“I have spent most of this year in Cowra as part of my rural medicine studies,” said Ms Kummer. "Having now spent time in Lightning Ridge it really highlights the difference between rural and remote medicine. If we were in an urban or rural area, in many instances the patients would be referred to specialists, but that isn’t possible in a remote setting.”
“Given the low ratio of health professionals to patients, it was both great and challenging to become a useful part of the treatment team,” Ms Kummer continued. “Given the absence of female doctors at this practice, some patients really benefited from having a female on board for women’s health issues or sensitive procedures. Given the limited staffing, in providing a pair of hands we felt like we were really able to make a positive impact,”
“I have a much greater appreciation of the level of knowledge needed by general practitioners to satisfactorily support their community in a remote setting,” advised Ms Dahl. “There are varying levels of health literacy and differing views about medicine within the community so issues such as vaccine hesitancy are high. The doctors have to educate, listen, be respectful of differing views and collaborate with the community to provide the best quality of care.”
“There are challenges to rural and remote medicine but there are many positives as well, a big one being the community,” noted Ms Kummer. “Even though we didn’t find any opals during our stay, the time spent with the community and the doctors was a precious opportunity that we’ll remember fondly.”
“We also enjoyed exploring the town, discovering some of its quirky and unique attractions such as the Chambers of the Black Hand,” Ms Dahl added. “It’s an underground 'gallery' where the creator (Ron Canlin) carved different sculptures into the sandstone walls on the mine he owned. He’d etch while waiting for his next tour group. Twenty years on, it is one of the 'must see' sights of Lightning Ridge.”