Nursing Workforce Stories

Nursing a career on the road

What it's like to work as a remote area nurse in Australia. A young man walks through hospital corridors...

November 20, 2023

A young man walks through hospital corridors and onto patient wards as he begins a lifelong career caring for others during their darkest and happiest moments.

Figure 1: Some of the beauty in remote placements.

The year is 1983, and the man is Registered Nurse and Midwife, Rob Manning.

Forty years on, there have been thousands of patients and experiences from a career in nursing — a career which Rob describes as “the world is your oyster”.

Today, Rob no longer walks lengthy hospital corridors but journeys into Australia’s rural and remote communities with Vanguard Health to provide essential and vital health services where they are needed most.

He has been a RAN intermittently from way back in 1986, and with Vanguard Health since February 2022 — an experience he says has been “fantastic”.

“My first contact was with Ricole [Vanguard Health Workforce Relationship Manager] about a position in remote Northern Territory,” he said.

“I have been with Vanguard ever since and have found the team to be very flexible, helpful and accommodating.”

Figure 2: I bought some incredible Indigenous art work from this gentleman during one of my placements.

Rob describes being a Remote Area Nurse (RAN) as phenomenal work, skills, experiences, and friendships.

“You have to be on your toes because you never know what is coming in — it can be anything from a stubbed toe to death in minutes or death itself,” he explains.

“Working in remote Indigenous communities, the health status of these patients is amongst the poorest in the nation, and the risk of something serious coming through is very high.

“These patients require significant skill and work to return them to a better state of health because their general health is poor, and they will often present much later than patients in metropolitan areas.

Figure 3: Mums and children form a large part of the work we do.

“You can find yourself working twice as hard for your patients, but if you have a good team around you and count the positive outcomes, you cannot ask for much better.”

For those considering a move into remote area nursing, Rob offers some sound advice, including to “get a least five years of nursing under your belt” if you are in the early stages of your career.

“All Graduate Nurses need a couple of years on the ward — this is your building block — followed by a year or two in an Emergency Department before you start thinking about going remote,” Rob said.

“Once you are ready to take a step towards heading to remote and rural areas, it is time to upskill and undertake the various courses required to shape you into a competent RAN.

“As a RAN in a remote Aboriginal community, you can expect to see and treat a wide array of cases from basic wounds and health check ups through to deadly, serious conditions.

“For example, there is a lot of diabetes and all the complications that come from that.

Figure 4: You meet many new friends on the road who need a helping hand.

“Your communication and questions, and examination and assessment skills in particular, are absolutely essential as there are often hidden issues or conditions and it can be ‘lost in translation’ if you are not fully present and on your toes.”

With every occupation, there is the good and the bad, so Rob suggests taking the time to work out what works for you.

“Rural and remote communities in particular are exciting places to work, but they can certainly have a shelf life,” he notes.

“If you work full time in a busy community, you can expect to be busy all day and into much of the night if you end up ‘on call’.

“Sometimes it can seem like you cannot catch up on rest, sleep, and relaxation so you need to assess your limitations and what works for you.

“That’s why I often do four-to-eight-week stints having previously undertaken several year placements in communities in the Northern Territory and Far North Queensland.”

Rob also reflects that it is important to enjoy your own company and cope without the simple luxuries in life.

“If you can deal with all that, and find the right place for you, it is fantastic”.

For those seriously considering a transition to remote area nursing, Rob says to take your time and “test the waters” with short-term contracts.

“You will find places that you like and others you don’t,” he said. “Do not be disheartened if the first place you go to is not right for you.

Figure 5: A typical remote two-bed Emergency Department.

“Talk lots and talk to people all around you to discover the good, the bad, and the ugly — if you can do that, this will be part of your world oyster.”

Through his decades of service to communities around Australia, Rob counts numerous ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences as some of the unique rewards of a job on the road.

“Involve yourself in these communities with sport and social programs and you will quickly discover there is lots to do,” he said.

Among his experiences, Rob coached a winning softball team on Far North Queensland’s Cape, participated in an AFL non-smoking and fitness program, received thousands of dollars in grant funding to provide training and services to his local community, and worked the busiest day of his career — 20 hours straight with non-stop clinic patients as a result of a regional influenza epidemic, among other things.

Figure 6: RANs find themselves at the site of many medical evacuations.

Although his days as a midwife are mostly behind him now, Rob maintains dual registration as a Registered Nurse and Midwife and can assist in an unexpected birth while out in the field.

One such case saw him called at 2:00 am to assist a premature labour at 24 weeks gestation.

“The mother’s waters ruptured, and she gave birth on the airstrip as we were transporting her for medical evacuation into an aircraft,” he said.

It is stories like this one that make Rob and his wife — a midwife herself — joke about the manner in which labouring women always seem to find him and in the most unexpected of places.

With their three children now young adults, Rob is looking forward to the near future where the couple can take their careers on road together.  

Want to work as a nurse for Vanguard Health and earn great pay while travelling the country?

If you are interested in learning more about nursing and other health roles with Vanguard Health, please contact or view our latest vacancies on our Jobs Board.

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