A fresh approach to youth health that started in Bega is expanding to five new locations.
South Eastern NSW Primary Health Network and Senator John Williams, Duty Senator for Eden-Monaro, have announced Commonwealth funding to roll out “Teen Clinic” in GP practices at Bermagui, Eden, Narooma, Merimbula, and Kiama.
Bega Valley Medical Practice in Bega started the free drop-in service for the region’s young people in 2015.
Dr Duncan MacKinnon says Teen Clinic starts at the front desk of his GP practice with reception staff.
“When teens come all they have to say is ‘We’re here for Teen Clinic’ and that’s as much information as they have to give, no questions asked,” Duncan says.
On two afternoons a week, each practice will set aside time for teens with registered nurses (RN). High schoolers simply show up, no appointment needed, and no fee – Medicare picks up the cost.
Doctors and other health professionals are there and ready to respond if needed, supporting the work of the RN.
With the Commonwealth funding, Teen Clinic has expanded to Bermagui Medical Centre, Curalo Medical Centre (Eden), Lighthouse Surgery (Narooma), Main Street Medical (Merimbula), and Kiama Medical Practice.
Conscious of the barriers that sometimes exist when ‘grown-ups’, bureaucracy, and adolescents try and engage, an easy, non-judgmental, welcoming approach is key to the Teen Clinic model, as well as the leadership of nurses.
RN Sue MacKinnon is one of the faces of Teen Clinic in Bega each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon between 2 and 5 pm.
“There has been a lot of research that shows teenagers can be reluctant to talk to doctors,” Sue says.
“But they are fairly happy to talk to nurses, we are a good entry point.”
Aside from offering their own high level of primary health care, Sue and the clinic’s other RNs work to introduce and connect teens to the people and additional care they might need.
“We do a lot of baton passing, it’s a really smooth transition for the kids and takes away some of the scariness for them,” Sue says.
It’s important that Teen Clinic is not “just” seen to be a mental health service or a sexual health service.
All bases are covered, open access covering all medical concerns for teens.
The response from Bega teens has been positive over the last three years.
“We have a small population, so sometimes we might get one person, sometimes we get seven,” Duncan says.
“We get groups of kids coming in which is really lovely because they’re bringing their friends.
“It’s important that teenagers know this is a confidential service,” he says.
“But we always talk to them about parental involvement, but a lot of teenagers are capable of making informed choices.”
In announcing the funding, Senator Williams said, “Any investment in rural health in the search for better outcomes is a good investment.
“There has always been a great divide between city and regional health services but thankfully with initiatives such as this it will assist our medical specialists and ease the burden on country people,” he said.
Bega Valley Medical Practice has already started to roll out the Teen Clinic service to the five other practices and will provide ongoing support and mentoring.