Simon Ross first learned about the work of Heart of Australia from several sonography colleagues at Queensland Cardiovascular Group (QCG) who had been out on HEART 1.
“I’d hear stories from Dane and some of the other guys about their time out on the truck and I thought it was something that I’d like to do.”
The opportunity for Simon to come on board arose shortly after, when a collaboration between the Mater, QCG and Heart of Australia resulted in HOA acting as a provider for on-the-job echocardiogram training, for advanced student sonographers completing the Graduate Diploma of Cardiac Ultrasound.
“Rolf came to QCG asking who might be interested in working on the truck as part of completing their Graduate Diploma and I jumped at the chance. My first clinic rotation was on HEART 1 in January 2018.”
“It was an awesome experience. I got to meet members of the team, and they were really friendly and welcoming people. They instantly made me feel like I was part of the team.
In order to study the Graduate Diploma of Cardiac Ultrasound you must first have an undergraduate degree in a related course such as health, nursing or science, and then complete the 2-year part time course while simultaneously studying full-time in the industry to gain practical experience.
Having completed his final year of his Graduate Diploma in 2018, Simon graduated in December, and is now fully qualified.
Asked to describe his role in lay person’s terms Simon said, “while out on the truck the main thing we’re doing as cardiac sonographers is echo and stress echo tests – assessing the structure of the heart to check its functioning well, which is information we then provide to the specialists.”
Simon is rostered for 8 days a month on the heart truck, in addition to his full-time day job.
“My favourite part of the job is going out into the country and meeting the people there. All the patients who come to the truck are lovely.
“You also get to work a lot more closely with your team members on the truck than you do in a city-based clinic. When you’re out on the truck you’re a close-knit team. The specialist isn’t just some guy who works in the next room. You get to work a lot closer with everyone – the specialists, the medical aides, and the drivers. You eat your meals together, you get to know each other better so it all feels more personal when you’re out with all the guys together.”
Simon said when he thinks about the bigger cause it drives him to continue venturing out to work on the heart trucks.
“There’s not really any other specialist medical services available out there for anyone. I’ve had a number of direct referrals from outback hospitals because they don’t have echo services available in the hospital, and the closest available alternative for their patient is Toowoomba. That’s quite a big trek for someone who is already a hospital patient to need to do for a test.
When asked what constitutes a good day at work on the truck, Simon said a day when everyone’s tests are normal.
“It’s obviously great when you catch something that saves someone’s life, but the best days are when everyone’s tests are normal and there is nothing abnormal to report. Our role is not to give patient’s results, but from our training we know. It’s a terrible feeling when someone comes in and their pretty confident their healthy and you see that there’s something not quite right, and know the cardiologist will have to give them the news.
“The best days are when everyone goes home with good news.
Simon says he would encourage others with the necessary skills to consider applying to work on the truck.
“It’s a unique opportunity. You get to travel around to all these locations in outback Queensland that many Australians never see, and learn about the country. It’s a great break to the regular city clinic days. I tell people to go for it. It’s something you should give a go once in your life.
On Friday 1 March, Heart of Australia Founder, and cardiologist, Dr Rolf Gomes, joined with staff and supporters to launch the latest addition to our outback fleet, our first compact mobile clinic, HEART 3.
Brisbane cardiologist, Dr Gomes, said that while HEART 3 was ‘mini’ when compared to HEART 1 and HEART 2, the custom-built 18 and 34-wheeler mobile clinics, there was nothing mini about the services it would be delivering.
“HEART 3 has been designed and built to deliver any specialist service that HEART 1 and HEART 2 can do, including cardiology, neurology and endocrinology,” Dr Gomes said.
“It features a full cardiac testing room complete with treadmill and ultrasound, a multi-purpose bed capable of providing gynaecological services, a respiratory testing machine, and state of the art colposcope equipment. It is an impressive addition to our fleet of outback mobile clinics.”
Dr Gomes said the new mini mobile clinic would play an essential role in providing additional capacity for service delivery to the 16 Queensland towns and surrounding communities currently visited by Heart of Australia.
“There are times when we need additional capacity for testing and specialist consultations, such as during the months immediately following the introduction of new specialist services into towns,” Dr Gomes said.
“It’s not uncommon for a town to have zero specialists in a particular field on site locally for many years, and so when we start offering a community local onsite access to a cardiologist, endocrinologist or gynaecologist, the backlog can be extensive. It’s at times like these that boosting our capacity with HEART 3 will be invaluable.”
HEART 3 will also be used to offer a skeleton service during times when HEART 1 or HEART 2 are off the road for servicing and maintenance, and to assist with community engagement events.
The bulk of the funding required to construct and fit out the $1million custom-clinic was provided by corporate sponsors and charitable foundations, committed to the mission of providing essential medical services to the people of rural and regional Queensland.”
Dr Gomes said that several sponsors and supporters had rallied together to ensure HEART 3 was built as promptly as possible, and to ensure its ability to fund its operations that will deliver the services.
“Without the support of our sponsors and supporters, including the Eloise Gannon Foundation, Girls Got Heart and our Foundation Partner, Arrow Energy, we could not have realised the dream of HEART 3 as quickly as we have.
“Equally as important are those supporters who will keep us on the road with fuel, tyres, vehicle servicing and support, and of course, our staff.”
With the launch of HEART 3 complete, the attention of those involved in the design and construction of Heart of Australia’s custom mobile clinics can turn to HEART 4, which will serve an additional nine (9) towns in northern Queensland including The Cape, from 2020.