Three Minute Squiz With… Fiona Strang

Fiona Strang is the CEO of HealthWISE, a federally-funded primary health care and social services not-for-profit based in Moree, NSW that covers an area almost twice the size of Tassie. Which means she’s at the coalface of helping rural and regional people manage their physical and mental health in these drought-stricken times. A hard-core Squizer who has an interesting recipe to share, please welcome Fiona to the Three Minute Squiz. 

How and where do you Squiz?
The Squiz is part of my morning ritual. My husband brings me a cup of tea in bed every morning at 6am and I immediately open my email and read The Squiz before taking our Beagle, Molly, for a walk. I travel a lot with my job so I listen to The Squiz Shortcuts whilst driving. As well as being informative, it helps to pass the time and the trip definitely feels shorter!

You live in Moree, which makes you one of our many regional Squizers. What’s something you wish city-folk knew about the country?
It’s a misconception that people from the bush know less and are less skilled than their city counterparts. Working in HealthWISE in rural and regional NSW and QLD, I have found myself surrounded by hugely talented and skilled staff who are very innovative and proficient at their jobs. Another misconception is that rural towns don’t offer the ‘mod cons’ we need for a comfortable life. We once had some dietetic students from a city university come to Moree for their clinical placement. Before they left the city they were advised by their lecturer to buy their groceries from one of the larger towns on the way as they wouldn’t find anything in Moree. How surprised they were when they found Moree had everything they might need for a comfortable stay – everything from supermarkets, great coffee – and even bitumen roads!

You’re the boss of HealthWISE – a not-for-profit based in NSW’s New England region which delivers primary health care and social services for communities up to Queensland’s Darling Downs. Give us the quick low down on why HealthWISE is so important…
It is recognised that on average, Australians living in rural and remote areas live shorter lives, experience higher levels of disease and injury, and have poorer access to health services compared with people living in metropolitan areas. Rural Australians deserve equity in healthcare. The 80 highly professional HealthWISE staff (over a quarter of whom identify as Aboriginal) operate across an area 1.7 times the size of Tasmania to address these issues.

Our allied health and mental health clinicians, nurses, peer support workers, Aboriginal health workers, care coordinators and navigators work with local GPs and specialists to ensure vulnerable groups have access to appropriate, locally-based, high-quality care. The staff at HealthWISE know the communities they work in and are passionate about the positive impact preventative health measures have on both the individual and the community as a whole.  We take a lot of pride in our work.

When it comes to regional health care, what is the biggest challenge?
The continuing difficulty in attracting skilled and experienced health professionals to work in rural and regional Australia. A good life doesn’t only exist in the city. There are challenges due to potential professional isolation, but organisations such as HealthWISE provide a ‘community of health professionals’ that is supportive and committed to providing upskilling, mentoring and professional development to all their health professionals.

One interesting observation – students from rural medical schools are achieving higher results in their clinical examinations. The reason? The students’ rural clinical supervisors are more experienced in treating a broader clinical caseload and they are passing on their knowledge to their students.

On a personal note, a little birdy tells us you are about to become a grandmother for the first time, how exciting is that?
Very exciting! My friends tell me that having grandchildren is just the best thing. I can’t wait! Any day now!

Name four people – living or dead – you’d kill to sit down to dinner with.
I think I’ll keep it close to home. I’d love a ‘back to the future’ dinner with my great-grandparents and my two children. I’d love their insights into our family history and being able to connect across the generations would be very special. That’s technically six though…

And what are you cooking?
Layered Salmon Cheesecake. It sounds so weird, and my daughter stubbornly refuses to touch it, but trust me it’s delicious! A real throwback to my childhood. It was handed down from my Mother and is a great dish for a summer lunch. It contains quite a bit of cream so eat in moderation! Add a garnish of fresh dill and you’ve got a winner!

Your favourite book/writer?
At the moment I’m reading The Porpoise* by Mark Haddon, and listening to The Testaments by Margaret Atwood while I travel. I’m partial to a good story and I’m a bit of a romantic so I do love Jane Austen. At the other end of the scale, a good thriller. Robert Galbraith provides an entertaining read.

What is your worst and best habits?
Worst: My nails can get a workout when I’m stressed.

Best: De-stressing with Molly with a walk every morning and pat and a chat every evening, plus the odd chase to retrieve the sock she has inevitably stolen from one of my husband’s boots…

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Moderation – some things are just better not in moderation e.g. Layered Salmon Cheesecake! Chocolate, hugs, holidays!

What would you say is the most currently overlooked news story Australians should know about but don’t?
I’d say the impact of the changing climatic conditions on the health of Australians and the potential cost to our society. With the severe drought, ever-recurring bushfires and increasing water issues, how do we keep our communities healthy, both physically and mentally? Particularly when severe water restrictions impact on our food security, green spaces and pools for play and sport, cooling systems, and the environment we see around us every day. As a health organisation, helping our communities to look after their physical and mental health in the face of these harsh conditions is something we at HealthWISE have been very engaged in.

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