Linda Blair: Master of Advanced Nursing Practice, 2019. Nurse Practitioner & member of the Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT). Victoria
As Australians first began contemplating the potential domestic impact of COVID-19, Linda Blair (Master of Advanced Nursing Practice, 2019) was already in Wuhan, contending with the virus on the frontlines.
In early February 2020, the impact of COVID-19 was yet to dominate our everyday lives in Australia. But for Linda Blair, this was the beginning of a turbulent journey dealing with the fallout of a global pandemic across China and Australia. As a member of the Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT), she was deployed to Wuhan for the repatriation of Australians to Darwin. As a Nurse Practitioner, Linda was forced to put aside the growing fears of a society that watched what was happening globally and travel directly to the frontline to assist with the evacuation effort.
A far cry from China, Linda’s experience in nursing is focused in rural Australia. She is currently based in a small rural health service in Heathcote in Central Victoria, her role works across the facility “supporting and building capability and capacity of the small rural health service in collaboration with General Practitioners to improve the health outcomes of individuals and families, ” interspersed with casual Nurse Practitioner emergency work in the small seaside town of Apollo Bay. With the outbreak of the pandemic, Linda’s role was extended to be the clinical lead of the project team: Nurse Practitioner COVID-19 Model of Care (NPCMoC). Her NPCMoC role works across the facility to assist with COVID-19 related and non-COVID-19 related health concerns for emergency, inpatient, outpatients and residential aged care individuals during the COVID-19 phases. The role has included COVID-19 blitz clinics, testing clinics, emergency respiratory presentations as well as residential aged care in-reach and palliative care. In addition, it supports staff through education and training in COVID-19 related matters.
Linda has seen the international influence of a global pandemic but is particularly sensitive to the potential outbreak in rural communities. She recalls the initial lack of Personal Protective Equipment, which inevitably stirred feelings of frustration and helplessness. “You just don’t know if the next patient will be positive for COVID-19,” she remarks, and things that were once normal processes are now transformed into “challenging and lengthy” procedures. Linda highlights that this is only exacerbated by the limited resources of a small rural health service in contrast to metropolitan facilities, which means you rely heavily on clinical skills. “There is always the thought of the last COVID-19 swab taken,” she reflects, “will all those involved be safe?”
Despite these concerns, Linda is the first to affirm her love for rural health. Rural nursing is unique, and Linda deeply values the professional relationships that are able to thrive within smaller communities. She is aware of the many gaps within rural health but is drawn to the challenge. “This is where I feel as a Nurse Practitioner, that I can make a difference in the health of those who live and work in rural and isolated areas.” While some may assume that nursing in a regional community is limited, Linda says “it surprises me how far my nursing career has taken me and the vast amount of knowledge and skills I have gained that make me the practitioner I am today.”
Linda completed her Master’s in Advanced Nursing Practice in 2019 from the University of Melbourne, after being drawn to the excellent reputation and flexibility within the course for online and face-to-face learning, a factor she appreciates makes study accessible for rural and regional students. Linda advises current students to enjoy their course and make use of all the opportunities offered. “Your study and qualifications will open up doors that were previously not open or even existing.”
While Linda’s experience on the frontline has sometimes been wrought with upheaval, she looks forward optimistically. She acknowledges the progress that has rapidly occurred in telehealth for nurse practitioners and is interested to see this further develop and progress into the future beyond COVID-19. Nonetheless, Linda is not one to take face-to-face engagement for granted, and she looks forward to giving her headset and earphones a break and connecting in person!
Ultimately, despite the challenges of a global crisis, Linda is “hopeful that the role of Nurse Practitioner will grow much faster in Australia than it has in the past, and that Australians will see the great value of Nurse Practitioners within the health workforce.”