PEOPLE: John Monash Scholar – Rebecca Keeley

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Rebecca Keeley? 

Every day working in rural healthcare is new and exciting, so I can’t remember the last time I considered something a ‘normal’ day. In my current role as a senior project officer for NSW Health, I coordinate a multidisciplinary team of clinicians and staff to try and reduce geriatric hospital readmissions for patients who present to the emergency department more than ten times in a year.  

On any given day I might be in Lake Cargelligo, a First Nations Community in the far west of NSW, up in the mountains in Tumbarumba, or in the cherry fields of Young. I am so grateful to be able to meet with a vast range of consumers and stakeholders across the district, and to see so much of the lands on which I work. 

I guess the normality I try and have is at the end of the day. Depending if I’m on the road or not, most evenings you would find my fiancé and I walking our beloved golden retriever Rover in the national parklands behind our home in Griffith. I love to cook and I use it to try and switch off my brain after a big work day. And something I’ve made the conscious effort to do over the past few years make sure I read every day. There is so much to be learnt in the literary world and I really relish a good book. 

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

Healthcare in rural and remote parts of Australia truly encapsulates the diversity of this great country that we live in. I’ve had the pleasure of working as a speech pathologist in some of the most remote indigenous communities in Australia, but have also seen the other side of the remoteness of farming communities in far western NSW. This vast geographical expanse and the diversity of those who call it home has always been something that has inspired me to continue to drive change and innervation in the way we deliver allied health services in these areas. 

Whilst diversity can be demonstrated through personal identification, diversity of thought and background professionally is also something that is growing in healthcare in Australia. The traditional doctor & nurse model of care provision is moving to involve those from other backgrounds, including, but not limited to, allied health voices. Having a diverse range of opinions on care provision for a patient can lead to more holistic care across the lifespan, and allied health professionals are becoming more consistently represented in this model of care throughout Australia. This move is more difficult in rural and remote areas due to the limited resource options but it’s a movement I am proud to be a part of to improve the care provided for patients in these areas.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I have been incredibly lucky throughout my life to have not faced any significantly adverse challenges based on the way I identify. However I am sure all women have at least one example of how gender has affected a workplace situation, especially as you climb the professional ladder. Moving my career towards the business world has clearly shown me the lack of female leadership in top management teams in Australia, but furthermore so, the significant lack of allied health leadership across Australia, particularly in rural areas. 

Another unique challenge that I have continued to experience in my professional practice is difficulties instigating change management while being younger than other stakeholders in the room. Ageism is something I have experienced on both ends of the spectrum, both professionally with ageism in the aged care space of healthcare, but also the ageism I find myself on the receiving end of when addressing a room of corporate executives who may doubt my experience in a certain field. Whilst this is challenging, I relish in the opportunity to prove my worth. And sometimes I think as a diverse nation if we can continue to identify the individual worth of others from a range of backgrounds, and be willing to listen, we could make significant advances in a multitude of areas. 

I also however reflect that whilst these personal challenges exist, they vastly fall outside of the hardships I have witnessed firsthand faced by our First Nations Australians and those in remote areas trying to access equitable healthcare. In these situations, advocacy for those who have limited capacity to do so themselves is a way I believe I can try and improve these challenges we continue to face.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

Chasing your dreams and goals will always be harder if you are not surrounded by others who can dream your dreams. There have been several moments in my career thus far where I felt as though maybe I didn’t belong in a particular role or network due to the perceived stereotype associated, but if you begin to believe that yourself, you will always be on the back foot. Surround yourself with strong networks who believe in your capabilities, who frequently remind you and are encouraging of your worth, and as a result the feeling of imposter syndrome is lessened. This was put into practice for me during the General Sir John Monash Scholarship application process where none of the previous scholars had come from an allied health background. Seeing such a diverse group of incredible Australians being supported to chase their postgraduate dreams, but not being able to relate professionally to any previous scholar, made me question if I was the right fit for the organisation. However those around me both personally and professionally supported my application and goals, and with their support I was successful in being the first allied health professional supported by the Sir John Monash Foundation, a network where I hope to see many allied health professionals in the future. It is also so important and take the time to stop and listen. The best piece of advice I have ever received was that silence is okay, and the ability to actively listen and stop is so important to change. While your opinions and ideas are important, you will always be respected if you can step back and take the time to listen to those around you, regardless of their background. Those who celebrate the diversity of others by listening, learning and accepting growth are the people who will make active change in their industries and communities alike. 

Want to follow and support Rebecca ?

Instagram: @outbackallies
A support and mentoring network for early career allied health professionals working in rural and remote areas. 

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rebecca-keeley-b14272101General Sir John Monash Foundation: https://www.johnmonash.com/