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Young remote nurse wins major accolade

By Karen Keast | Last Updated: 19-11-2013

WA 2012 Nurse of the Year Kristy Cooper

As a descendant of the last full-blooded Tasmanian Aboriginal Fanny Cochrane-Smith, it is no surprise that Kristy Cooper felt compelled to become a rural area nurse to help Aboriginal people.

But what did come as a surprise, at least to Kristy, was the recent announcement naming Kristy as Western Australia’s 2012 Nurse of the Year.

Kristy received the top honour at the recent WA Nursing and Midwifery Excellence Awards after also winning the Rural and Remote Registered Nurse category.

One of 16 nurses and midwives throughout the state to win the diverse range of award categories, Kristy was awarded the overall title for her commitment to providing acute care, educating emerging rural and remote nurses, and for her work developing primary health

and prevention programs.

At 27, Kristy has spent the past three years working at a single nurse post in Coral Bay, a small town on the coast of WA, 1200km north of Perth, which is home to between 150 to 200 locals plus the seasonal tourists who come to experience Australia’s only fringing reef and its outstanding marine life.

“Because I grew up rurally and with the Indigenous heritage, I am really quite interested in social and economic inequality,” she said.

“I find it hard to believe that people do have such a different life path. I find it hard to accept it’s already pre-determined because of social, economic and geographic location.

“I find it really hard to deal with and I am eager to overcome it.”

As a frontline health professional, Kristy is passionate about remote practice and hopes to improve service delivery to people in remote areas, who Kristy said are “the sickest people in Australia statistically”.

Kristy, who job shares with another nurse and works one week on and one week off, is completing her Masters in Remote Health Practice (Nurse Practitioner) through Flinders University and the Centre for Remote Health in Alice Springs.

With the nearest hospital 120km away at Exmouth, Kristy thrives on the generalist aspect of her nursing role.

“You see so much and you never know what’s coming in,” she said.

“With that comes a lot of autonomy and advanced practice.”

Kristy hopes she will be endorsed as a nurse practitioner and wants to continue nursing in Coral Bay.

“If they re-classify my position I will be able to rid some of the gaps that exist in health care delivery in Coral Bay,” she said.

“I will be able to do a lot more, sooner for the patient rather than the patient having to wait for the doctor to arrive.”

Kristy has completed additional study in a bid to improve her service to patients and she is also working on a thesis researching the experiences and expectations of orientation in rural area nursing, in a bid to enhance the experience for nurses.

She is also assisting Flinders University with orientation programs in rural area nursing and lending a hand with some of its post-graduate rural area nursing courses.

“It’s really nice to be recognised as a rural and remote health professional,” Kristy said of her award.

“I love this place - they are my friends and family now, not just my clients.

“It’s really a kind of special place.”

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