“Your postcode shouldn’t determine your health.”
Jess Seckerson can’t remember the exact moment she first heard someone use that rallying cry for better healthcare services in rural and regional areas.
She just knows that it’s part of what gets her up in the morning – and drives her to seize every day, as a registered nurse at Goulburn Base Hospital.
Newly-graduated from the University of Canberra with a Bachelor of Nursing, Jess has been passionate about rural healthcare delivery ever since she decided – aged 14 – that her life path led to nursing and midwifery.
Jess and her family migrated from England when she was just five; the first place they called home was Roseworthy, near the Barossa Valley, in South Australia.
Having lived regionally for most of her life, Jess has first-hand experience and understanding of the challenges a rural community faces in seeking healthcare.
Her lived experience has given her insight into how policy and practice can help overcome those challenges, as well as an important understanding of the home lives and social connections in a rural community – all of which combine to impact healthcare decisions.
“People who live rurally often wait longer to get healthcare, because they may have to travel a long way,” she says. “Growing up rurally has helped me understand why someone wouldn’t want to drive 40 minutes to get to a hospital – that often means taking time off work, that they might not be able to afford.
“That’s why initiatives like telehealth, and outreach support and nursing – where you proactively go out to the patients to try to lower hospital presentations, and alleviate some of the burden on the system – are so important. They’re the real-life solutions that need to be looked at when you consider healthcare in remote and rural areas.”
When Jess was 13, her family moved to Yass, NSW.
“It was around that time I told my mum I wanted to be a cop – following in her footsteps – and she just said: nope!” says Jess. “I think she knew my calling lay elsewhere.”
Three things led her to uncover that calling – two real-life, and one, fictional.
“My grandma was an in-home carer, and I always looked up to her and the work she did,” Jess says.
“And then my mom bought me the Call The Midwife books [by Jennifer Worth] – and when I had finished, I just said right, that is what I am going to do.”
Then there was Jess’ Year 10 work experience at a hospital, which reinforced her decisions about the path she would follow.
“I spent every day of my work experience surrounded by amazing nurses, who were truly role models,” she says. On her second day at the hospital, Jess experienced the death of a patient – and watched the nurses sweep into action, full of reassurance and compassion.
“You could clearly see how their caring natures became even more apparent – as well as their empathy and how they constantly put the patients first,” she says.
Feeling the irresistible pull of her vocation, Jess was unwavering in its pursuit.
Pursuing a Bachelor of Nursing at UC’s Faculty of Health gave Jess the chance to work in a variety of healthcare settings while studying, including as a disability support worker, in community aged care, as an Assistant in Nursing (AIN) at two aged care facilities and, most recently, as a medication-trained AIN at Yass Valley Aged Care.
Jess says that working in aged care facilities and in-home care for the elderly proved a particularly powerful factor in shaping the nurse she has become.
“I saw the loneliness, and how transitioning into aged care [for the elderly] can be a really huge thing,” she says. “In aged care, many people are taken away from everything and everyone they know. That makes their human need for connection even more crucial and urgent.”
So Jess sometimes found that her eight-hour shifts were spent simply talking to people – and importantly, listening.
“I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the things I’ve learned – and how they translate into practice – and I think the most important thing is empathy. It’s a huge part of nursing – you’ve got to have the ability to put yourself in a patient’s shoes and understand that they are probably feeling like it’s the worst day of their life, and they are probably very, very scared.”
Pursuing her passion for rural living and healthcare even socially, Jess spends her time volunteering for Headspace Yass and Goulburn via its Youth Reference Group.
“Other young people in the area can come to us for advice, and we in turn let Headspace know what kind of programs they should run for the local community,” she says. “It’s about making sure the voices of young, local community members are heard, and ensuring programs are relevant.”
Practising as a registered nurse is just part one of Jess’ dream, achieved. A planner by nature, she already knows her intended timeline to scale literal heights.
“I want to ultimately join the Royal Flying Doctor Service, to be able to practise nursing in rural and remote areas across Australia,” she says. “At my last placement in Moruya, a lady got bitten by a snake and the RFDS flew her out – I knew immediately that was what I wanted to do further down the track.”
Jess plans to return to study and get her Midwifery degree in 2024.
“Then hopefully I’ll be able to join the RFDS by 2026, working out of Dubbo or Broken Hill.
“I love rural nursing, and I always will – I know it sounds cliched, but nursing is a career in which you can really help people, support them, help them get better, be there for them … what could be more important?”
Words by Suzanne Lazaroo, photos by Tyler Cherry and supplied.
This September, the University of Canberra would like to congratulate the graduating class of 2022.
We are so glad we can celebrate your journey – you have grown in so many ways, and risen to meet challenges with grace and creativity.
Many of you are already impacting your chosen fields, while others embark on the postgraduate study path.
We are so proud of you all, and we can't wait to see what you will do next.