Based in Darwin, Verena flies or drives to remote communities on a fortnightly basis across the Top End of Northern Territory.
Living in Humpty Doo, situated around 40kms south of Darwin, Verena works for the Department of Health as a Nurse Practitioner in mental health. Verena is currently undertaking further education for her Graduate Certificate in Addiction Studies to offer more comprehensive care in co-morbid substance use and mental health disorders.
Verena has lived in the Northern Territory for 26 years and has been a nurse for the past 33 years; she is the only NP working in the Remote Mental Health Team in the NT.
Can you share a little about the community you are working in and the nursing you are providing to patients?
In the communities that I visit mental health disorders and substance use are common, and 99% of my clients are Aboriginal. These communities are some of the most remote in Australia and each of them are unique in culture, languages and also their views on mental health treatment, quite often differing from our Western understanding of illness.
What is unique about your role in the community?
From my perspective, there is limited access for primary health clinics to provide the specialist mental health care our clients require from referrals to discharge and everything in between.
I aim to provide accessible specialist mental health services and care to the people in the communities I work in allowing health care to be received at home and avoiding the need to travel to Darwin for treatment.
As a Nurse Practitioner I am well placed to work with my clients to work towards best outcomes of their health and being able to offer a variety of interventions based on a holistic nursing model of treatment.
What is a typical day for you in your NP role?
In a typical day, I go to visit people at their homes in the community do regular comprehensive reviews and liaise with family. Aboriginal people see themselves as a larger family unit rather than as an individual to make treatment decisions, and it is part of my role to identify and incorporate the appropriate family member(s) to ensure health care is delivered most effectively.
Part of my day might include liaising with the clinic staff/doctors in regards to mental health clients and liaising with community agencies. I recommend or prescribe psychotropic medications and arrange appropriate ongoing management to allow patients to stay in their community as much as possible without having to travel hundreds of kilometres for specialist mental health treatment in hospital.
In some cases, my patients may need referrals to other specialists which I can do as a NP and I might assist with medical evacuation via the Mental Health Act.
Why did you decide to become a nurse practitioner?
I saw becoming an NP as an excellent opportunity to use my extensive experience as a mental health nurse and after completing the required study and endorsement put my skills and knowledge to good use.
I value the ability to provide more autonomous care and fill gaps in the mental health care to clients in the remote Northern Territory. By being an NP, I can now offer a more accessible and comprehensive health service.
What are you hoping to achieve in your current role as an NP?
I think in the long term I would like to establish more NP roles in the NT by working with the college and stakeholders.
While in the short term I would like to consolidate my NP role and expand it. I am currently developing my skills and knowledge by doing a Grad Cert in Addiction Studies.This will furtherbroaden the treatment choices for my clients with the aim to improve their lives and reduce ill mental health.
If you weren’t an NP, what would you be doing?
I would always be happy to be a nurse and have never regretted my career choice. If I weren’t an NP in the public health care system, I would be in private practice possibly, however, I love what I do and feel it is a valuable addition to the community that I live in.
If you were to use a few words to describe an NP what would they be?
When people ask me what I do, I say, “I am a mental health nurse with the ability to prescribe medications and tests and manage an episode of care more independently.”
I have some skills that doctors have but my care provision is based on a nursing model, and this is how NP’s are unique.