When I was a kid, if you went downtown with my father, there was an 89.99 per cent chance that we would meet one, two or even three patients from his optometry practice.
Well, I'm not sure if my stats are that accurate, but as a kid it felt like that.
Perhaps it was a combination of 'dad embarrassment' and everyone in town knowing him like some type of local hero.
It's crazy to think that my father, who moved here from Brisbane, was the first full-time optometrist in our home town just over 40 years ago now.
Despite the occasional embarrassment, this modeling developed my understanding of the absolute necessity of having access to allied health services in small communities.
I am now lucky enough to work in allied health as an occupational therapist in this same community.
Despite allied health being a necessary service for the active and independent wellbeing of community members, and an absolutely rewarding profession, according to the Australian government Department of Health, we currently have a national shortage of allied health professionals in Australia.
So where does that leave regional and rural Queenslanders who need access to vital allied health services?
It leaves us up the creek with no paddle. Or in reality, it leaves us up the creek without access to services like optometry, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, making everyday life very challenging for some community members.
Throughout my early career experience, I have found that many colleagues have little interest in moving to regional or remote areas of Queensland for various reasons.
Some say the variety of work may be restricted, access to support is limited or they simply enjoy being close to the big cities.
Whatever the reason for these allied health shortages, we absolutely need more support from the government to improve the incentives and programs that attract and retain rural allied health professionals.
You may think this is no small task. What can you do in your small community?
I put to you the challenge of actively seeking out and welcoming allied health workers who may be new to your community.
Invite them to your local show, the footy club, the local pub or whatever it is that makes your town an absolutely amazing place to live and work.
Support them to understand the value and importance of building community connections and the benefit of living in these unique parts of Queensland.
You never know, maybe saying 'hello, how are you' when you see them downtown might just make them feel like a local hero too and in return they will support those in your communities who need support the most.
- Bridget Webster, 2021 West Moreton and Brisbane Valley Showgirl state finalist
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