Articles and Case Studies

Thursday Island - An Enlightening Experience

05 Dec 2016

by Anne-Marie Nielson

Thursday Island

Thursday Island, the commercial centre of the Torres Strait Islands, has a population of approximately 2600. It's located 35km north-west of Cape York and 800km north of Cairns.

Queensland Health’s Thursday Island Hospital1 hosts 26 general medical beds and 6 maternity beds, and is serviced by a fusion of local and transient healthcare, administrative and domestic personnel.  The service is predominantly staffed by General Practitioners (GPs) with rural and remote certifications ranging from GP anaesthetists, GP obstetricians and GP surgeons. It’s a training post for registrars, registered medical officers and medical students with a penchant for remote health.

My reasons for choosing Thursday Island

Firstly, I’ve always wanted to learn more about Torres Strait Islander culture, being that my Aboriginal heritage is so closely tied in with our northernmost Indigenous communities. It was an opportunity to become more familiar with the people and cultural practices of the islands for the benefit of my future practice as a medical professional working in Indigenous health.

Secondly, I wanted to further consolidate my medical knowledge and skills in an environment that specialises in remote health. Presentations to the health services included a neonate in respiratory distress requiring resuscitation measures; necrotizing fasciitis; post-partum haemorrhage; Irikandji stings; tuberculosis; suspected meningococcal disease; and the more common presentations such as fractured limbs, respiratory and skin infections, and chronic disease complications. Most interesting was seeing the medical presentations come through from Papua New Guinea via the local community health services on the outer islands, and the management of medical transfers from the islands.

Outreach to remote communities is a major component of the delivery of healthcare services on Thursday Island. I was fortunate enough to accompany medical staff and allied health on such visits.

Thursday IslandThursday IslandThursday Island

 

Outreach to Mua Island (Banks)

There are two communities on Moa Island: Kubin and St Paul’s. Travelling from one side of the island to the other highlighted the distinct uniqueness of both communities from the surrounding greenery to the layout and feel of the townships. The post-trachoma screening community meeting at Kubin was to discuss the results of the recent Queensland Health Trachoma surveillance which was conducted on three communities in the Torres Strait. It was an opportunity to spend time with community members and to find out the social determinants impacting upon this population. A visit to the local school and art gallery further showcased life on the island and the community’s vivid association with the surrounding waters.

Mua IslandMua Island

 

Outreach to Coconut Island (Poruma)

One of the smaller inhabited islands in the Torres Strait measuring approximately 1.4kms in length and, in my opinion, is the most stunning. A walk from one side of the island to the other showcased a community of brightly painted houses overlooking pristine beaches. The GP clinic at the local Health Service is serviced by a visiting doctor from Thursday Island once a week and manages presentations such as musculoskeletal injuries, chronic disease management and mental health issues. The doctors are allocated to a health service for a term to ensure continuity of care, and there are plans to organise a primary healthcare weekend in the near future which aims at celebrating good health choices. Access to healthcare specialists is via skype or transfer to Thursday Island, and routine allied health visits occur regularly.

Coconut Island

 

Outreach to Bamaga

An early morning hour-long ferry ride from Thursday Island was required to reach the tropical community of Bamaga. Bamaga Hospital services the local population as well as the communities of Injinoo, Umajico, Seisia and New Mapoon. The Indigenous antenatal health worker provided a rundown of these communities during the transport of expectant mothers to the weekly antenatal clinic at Bamaga Hospital. The antenatal clinic is serviced by a visiting midwife and medical professional from Thursday Island where routine check-ups are conducted, as well as link-ups with the visiting endocrine team and diabetes educator. Due to logistical requirements, the expectant mothers are relocated to Thursday Island when they are close to term for delivery of the babies or earlier if there are pregnancy complications.

BamagaBamaga

 

A rewarding experience

The blend of remote acute care and preventative community health in this culturally rich environment made my elective an enjoyable and enlightening clinical experience. I came away from this journey with a renewed interest in the practice of preventative community health in areas of remote locales – and having this opportunity to learn more about life on the Torres Strait was icing on the cake.


Anne-Marie Nielson
Flinders University, South Australia


Anne-Marie Nielsen was the recipient of the inaugural 2015 MDA National and RDAA Rural Health Bursary. Her working life has revolved around Aboriginal health care, both as a registered nurse and also as an Aboriginal researcher. Anne-Marie used the bursary funding of $7,000 to undertake her clinical placement on Thursday Island.

The bursary stems from RDAA’s and MDA National’s shared understanding of the challenges impacting rural and remote doctors. It aims to encourage, support and nurture Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors for the benefit of the wider community.

Reference

  1. Queensland Government (2015), Queensland Health Thursday Island Health Service Profile, Website: health.qld.gov.au [Accessed: 31st May 2016].
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