Volunteer Specialists Program

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Each year, the Foundation’s Volunteer Specialist Program provides teams of highly skilled medical specialists who offer their services at no charge to work in Katherine and remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.  The program has recently expanded to include volunteer visits to our south Pacific neighbour, the Solomon Islands.

The Volunteer Specialist Program began in 2008 with seven teams of specialists in Orthopaedics, Ear, Nose and Throat, Dental, Obstetrics and Gynaecology working in Katherine. During an intensive week, the teams completed about 300 patient consultations and 100 theatre procedures valued at approximately $600,000.

The specialist teams have continued these visits each year since then, providing all services without charge. The teams generally spend 3-4 days conducting outpatient consultations in remote communities surrounding Katherine, including Lajamanu, Kalkarindji, Timber Creek, Borroloola, Minyerri, Barunga and Ngukurr, and 1-2 days operating in the Katherine Hospital.

Most trips to remote communities are by charter plane. This, together with limited free time during the week, gives team members a fantastic opportunity to explore the beautiful top end country, while providing valuable services to the people living in this remote region.

An article in the Canberra Doctor (read it here) told the story of a couple of our team visits.

Volprog1Katherine, about 300km south of Darwin along the Stuart Highway on the Katherine River, is adjacent to the beautiful Katherine Gorge. The population of Katherine is around 9,000. This includes RAAF Base Tindal which adds a population of 2,200 defence force members and their families to the area. The Katherine District covers an area roughly the size of Victoria, some 350,000sq km, and has a total population of 20,000 people. The town population comprises 30% Indigenous people and the remote population comprises around 95% Indigenous people.

New Opportunities

After a decline in demand for volunteer specialist services in the NT more recently, the Foundation is now working with Australia’s south pacific neighbour, the Solomon Islands. The Pacific Health Program, as it is known, is aimed at contributing to community health improvement and building the capacity and capability of local health professionals by sharing Members’ knowledge and skills.

Foundation visiting teams are based at the National Referral Hospital (NRH) in the capital, Honiara, where they work with local staff to deliver medical education and services. The focus on medical education aims to add to the long term sustainability of the program and provide opportunities to Solomons doctors they might not otherwise be able to access.

After three pilot visits in 2015 to assess need, there were five visits in 2016.  Together with additional scoping visits, a paediatrics team, led by Foundation Member Prof David Croaker, delivered a three day teaching program for new hospital interns, while another team, led by Member Dr Liz Gallagher, began a program of obstetrics and gynaecology service, education and support. Dr Gallagher’s trip also included training to ensure the viability of two portable ultrasounds provided to the NRH through the Foundation.

The Foundation coordinates the considerable logistics for each trip, such as freight and customs issues in both Australia and the Solomons, and also sources consumables to ensure NRH supplies are not depleted.

Front page image: Foundation Director Dr Liz Gallagher (foreground) and Dr Nicola Meares with local staff in a Honiara Hospital operating theatre during a 2016 visit.

The Volunteers

The specialist doctor membership of the John James Foundation and nursing staff from the Calvary John James Hospital are the primary sources of volunteers for the Program (although there may be limited opportunities for other Australian registered health professionals). Volprog3
The John James Foundation organises the logistics of these trips and covers many of the direct costs of participation, including:

  • arranging and paying for all volunteer travel, accommodation and incidentals;
  • in some circumstances a contribution towards costs while volunteering;
  • insurance cover for personal accident, loss of personal effects and public liability; and
  • medical malpractice indemnity arranged through a NT Health volunteer contract, which provides full cover for the volunteers (except where the volunteer is grossly negligent).

The Foundation also facilitates credentialing and Working with Children Clearances. All volunteers are subject to a police check.

Given the high proportion of Indigenous patients who are treated, Volprog2a short cultural introduction program is provided to all volunteers.   Respect for Indigenous people and their culture is extremely important for the successful delivery of these services.

The most in-need specialties in remote areas are: ENT, Dental, Ophthalmology, Obstetrics, Gynaecology, Anaesthetics and Orthopaedics and it is from these specialties that we primarily draw our volunteers.

Please contact us for more information or to register your interest in volunteering for this extremely valuable service.

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