Working as a dietitian in rural and remote Australia can be a fantastic experience both professional and personally. Stephanie Langton the DAA Rural Representative for Victoria interviews Justine Watts about her experience living and working in a rural community 362km west of Melbourne.

How long have you worked in rural Victoria and why did you take on this job?

I have worked at Portland District Health (PDH) for 6 months, and in rural Victoria for a total of 14 months.

I was attracted to the variety of work responsibilities in my role at PDH and also the rural costal lifestyle!

What is a typical working day like for you?

On a typical day, I start my 8 hour work day at 8.30am and have only a 5 minute commute to work. I complete assessments of outpatients and inpatients on the wards of the hospital. Our hospital includes an acute and rehabilitation ward, as well as a dialysis unit. Some days I also see patients in our 2 aged care facilities. On other days I deliver group presentations to rehabilitation groups such as oncology, cardiac and pulmonary.

What are the advantages personally and professionally of working in a rural/remote area?

Professionally, there is a really good variety in the workload. You get exposed to working with adverse patient groups with a variety of health conditions. As a young dietitian looking to gain experience this makes for a fantastic learning environment.

In a small health organization we are also able to have joint consults with other health professionals which helps to ensure a multidisciplinary approach to patient care. It also presents an excellent opportunity to enhance your clinical knowledge, allowing you to learn from others and their areas of expertise.

On more personal note:

I definitely enjoy the rural work-life balance. It is a short commute to and from work. I am able to engage in activities after work hours and complete errand by a reasonable hour after work.

There is also a really strong sense of community in a rural area. We are lucky in Portland that we have a Young Professionals Network. The really helped me feel welcome and make a smooth transition into the community. There are often social and professional development events- so there is always something on the calendar to do! 

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and any strategies to overcome these?

Working in a rural area, you are definitely more isolated and may lack specialist experience in certain clinical areas. Networking with other dietitians is a valuable skill in overcoming this challenge. I have networked with other dietitians within the South-West Victoria region. I have also maintained relationships with other dietitians who you meet during your student and working experiences. 

I have also found it useful to approach specialist dietitians for more complex patient care advice. Whilst some patients need more specialist care, travelling to the city to see specialists on a frequent basis can be difficult. Therefore it is important to receive support from more specialist dietitians, doctors and health professionals to guide patient management and provide support locally.

Do you have any take home message for those who are thinking of venturing into the country for work?

Working in the country is a fantastic way to learn and increase your skills across a variety of clinical areas. The people you meet and the things you learn are invaluable. The great work life balance just helps to create a fun and supportive environment for you to enhance your skills! I would definitely recommend this pathway to other dietitians, especially other new graduates.