Future Focus: Paris Kerrison

Paris Kerrison, final year medical student at the University of Tasmania, has returned from her unique elective with the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS).

During her elective with RFDS in Port Augusta, Paris took part in clinical and retrieval flights, ultimately solidifying her desire to become a Royal Flying Doctor.

Blurred horizons

With the help of the BOQ Specialist FutureFocus grant, I had the privilege of undertaking my medical elective with the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) in Port Augusta, South Australia where they have been based since 1955. Amazingly, this base alone services the entirety of remote South Australia (which is approximately 85% of the state’s landmass).

As I travelled to South Australia, it occurred to me that I’ve never really seen a blurred horizon. I come from the mountainous Tasmanian landscape, where the sun steals behind peaks to send off the day. But from the window of the aeroplane, high above the flattened red-earth landscape of remote South Australia, a blurred horizon is all I can see. It signals a sense of adventure, a journey into the great unknown of the South Australian Outback as I embark on this elective. This blurred horizon also contextualises how the patients on-board a RFDS flight might be feeling, looking out the window, scared about the great unknown of their own health, far away from home.

Remote medicine

I assisted with clinic flights and retrieval flights throughout my elective. Retrieval flights handle emergencies, whereas clinic flights provide primary healthcare to isolated areas.

On a clinical flight, there was one doctor, nurse, mental health worker, Aboriginal healthcare worker and an overly excited medical student, on a plane flying to a small community. The local hall, room or sometimes the plane was used as a clinic space where patients could have health check-ups, similar to a general practice. Travelling from the Nullarbor in the south-west corner of the state, to Cowarie in the northeast, I visited many small towns, vast farm stations and roadhouses for these clinics.

It was during these visits that I learnt the striking reality of remote medicine, and the importance of teamwork. A 71-year-old patient visited the clinic in Glendambo (central South Australia) for a check-up and on examination, we found atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart rhythm). Due to his elevated risk of stroke, this patient needed medication immediately, however, the nearest pharmacy was a four hour drive away. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough of the necessary medication on board the plane, and it would be another two weeks before the next supply truck arrived in town. We examined the available resources and made the decision to form a larger team, recruiting the cardiology department in Adelaide to secure their services, developing a practical management strategy for this patient as a group. An aeromedical retrieval into Port Augusta for cardiology monitoring was planned. Through this experience, I discovered firsthand that remote medicine is unpredictable, necessitating resourcefulness, adaptability and teamwork to overcome obstacles.

Retrieval flight

We treated the patient at the site and then flew the patient to a bigger hospital on a retrieval flight. I experienced significant hands-on learning throughout these flights, and I felt energised by these experiences. In Oodnadatta (central north in South Australia), we flew out to an 83-year-old patient, whose caravan had rolled on the road. I was asked to do a preliminary assessment and check his vitals. Fortunately, he wasn’t injured by the accident, however, he declined to travel with us to receive the additional suggested hospital care. I discovered the stoicism of remote Australians here. Self-sufficiency entails not depending on others and this patient didn't want to depend on us anymore after the team gave him the all-clear. Nothing we said, not even the lure of a free scenic trip, could convince him. In the end, we honoured his request and instructed him to get in touch with us if his health continued to deteriorate.

Cultural importance

I was also incredibly privileged to visit some remote Aboriginal communities during my elective. Both Yalata (south west) and Oak Valley (central west) are local communities shared largely by the same transient populations. Both areas are well serviced with schools, health clinics and supply shops for the traditional owners and families who live there. The landscape is also vibrant with coastal shores in Yalata and lush bush in Oak Valley (thanks to a high water table). Many of these landscapes were also captured in some magnificent pieces of Aboriginal art. In these communities I learnt the importance of cultural elements of healthcare. I discovered that men in the area prefer male doctors to care for their health after being asked not to see a particular patient. In a similar vein, local ladies favour having female doctors handle their medical needs. I was glad to assist many of the female patients and made an effort to learn some local vocabulary so that I could build stronger relationships with the people there.

In the cockpit

Another amazing opportunity this elective provided was an insight into flying the RFDS planes. Many of the pilots were happy for me to fly in the cockpit. They showed me how to operate each control and even let me pilot the aircraft. I was able to learn about the 2 different aircrafts used by the RFDS (PC-12 for clinics and PC-24 for retrievals as well as the mechanics of how the aircrafts take off and land. I also discovered that, like doctors, pilots allocate resources. The several trips through the South Australian Desert involve careful consideration of the weights of the patient, crew, equipment, and fuel. Although I've never had a special interest in aeroplanes, this elective really piqued my curiosity.


Learning with the Royal Flying Doctors Service in Port Augusta, was a once in a lifetime experience. Every component has provided me with something I've valued and learnt from. I’ve always had a passion for rural health, and this elective, kindly supported by the BOQ Specialist FutureFocus grant, has certainly reinforced my passion. When I look ahead to the blurred horizons of my own career, I know that becoming a Royal Flying Doctor is the goal I will pursue.



Developed exclusively for medical and dental students, each year the BOQ Specialist FutureFocus grants provide students with the opportunity to undertake an elective so that their commitment to helping others can be realised. Applications for our FutureFocus Grant open in June and close in August. 

You can also access funds to help undertake an overseas placement, with our Student Banking Package.


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