Giving rural people’s health top priority

Kelly Burnett rounds a barrel during the open barrel race at the Waimate rodeo in 2015. Photo:...
Kelly Burnett rounds a barrel during the open barrel race at the Waimate rodeo in 2015. Photo: Hamish MacLean
Kelly Burnett's career aspiration is simple: to continue helping rural people get the best out of their bodies.

The Dunedin-based osteopath has a passion for farming and the rural community, and her masters degree research looked at how to help farmers maintain their physical health.

As she put it, tractors and motorbikes were regularly serviced and working dogs went to the vet for any injuries or ailments. But rural people often did not see themselves as the most important tool on their farm or in their business.

Born in the Falkland Islands, where her father was managing a sheep station, Ms Burnett (30) was well acquainted with rural communities, having grown up in them.

When she was 18 months old, her family shifted to Otago and she has lived in Middlemarch, Tarras and Omarama.After completing her secondary education at Queens High School in Dunedin, Ms Burnett did not know what she wanted to do.

Osteopath Kelly Burnett in her Dunedin office. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Osteopath Kelly Burnett in her Dunedin office. Photo: Gregor Richardson
She "dabbled in a bit of everything" including veterinary nursing, hospitality, farming and the corporate world.

A keen rodeo enthusiast, she travelled to the United States in 2009 to train and ride barrel racing horses. On her return, she decided she needed a career that would fund her travel habits.

She had always had a tendency towards helping people and an interest in healthcare. The animal healthcare system did not really appeal and she decided to work in a rest-home to see if nursing might suit.

Ms Burnett completed a bridging course at polytechnic and applied for courses in paramedics and nursing. She was on the wait-list for nursing when she was at the Dunedin Osteopathic Clinic seeing Neil Patel, who treated her regularly for horse and farm-related injuries.

He questioned why she wanted to be a nurse, and said he thought she would be very good at osteopathy.

Initially, Ms Burnett "kind of laughed" and thought that if she did not get into nursing, she would return to the US for another barrel-racing stint.

But she went home and could not get the idea of osteopathy out of her head, so she started googling osteopathy courses.

Her application for Unitec in Auckland had to be in by the next day and she had an interview a week later.

In the meantime, she was accepted for nursing and had to choose whether to put that on hold while she explored osteopathy.

Ms Burnett spent six years in Auckland: four years completing a bachelor of applied science and human biology dgeree and two years doing her master’s.

She finished in November 2016 and received her registration in March 2017, and has since worked at the Dunedin Osteopathic Clinic.

Mr Patel mentored her throughout her studies and told her there would be a job for her at the clinic.

When it came to the topic of her thesis, Ms Burnett wanted to know why rural people struggled with their bodies so much and what they knew about the healthcare that was available to them.

When she was growing up, her father had a contracting business, doing a lot of mulesing and tailing throughout Central Otago and the Mackenzie district.

Everywhere she went, she saw farmers either hurt or struggling with back pain or ongoing injuries yet were "just putting them to the side" and she wanted to know what would help rural communities.

One of the biggest problems was that farmers and other rural people saw themselves as less important than the farm.

Time and access was also a factor: it was not as easy to arrange appointments in town, where people tended to work office hours, and some people were in areas where healthcare was available but they did not necessarily know what help was available and what it could do for them, she said.

More rural clinics would not improve the situation unless the culture of rural people changed and they became willing to seek help.

Another problem was that some in the healthcare industry did not necessarily understand farmers and rural people as they had not grown up in that environment.

Healthcare advice was often not followed and it was impractical in some situations, she said.

Improving the physical health of rural people has become a passion for Ms Burnett. She has spoken to several rural-oriented groups, and feedback was very positive.

There were also some misunderstandings about the ACC system, so it was good to be able to educate people and answer questions, she said.

Working with her colleagues had taught Ms Burnett that being able to use your body in the way it was meant to move made you stronger.

She was able to link to watching farmers work and seeing poor lifting techniques in the agricultural industry.

She had been shown a correct lifting technique and had spent a lot of time teaching people how to lift correctly.

Ms Burnett has high job satisfaction in her career — "there’s nothing better than people coming back pain-free and able to do more," she said.

There are about 19 practitioners at Consultancy House Clinic and Dunedin Osteopathic Clinic, including osteopaths, physiotherapists, acupuncturists and massage therapists.

Ms Burnett is looking at gaining qualifications to treat horses, possibly an equine osteopathy course on Australia’s Gold Coast.

She lives at Brighton, south of Dunedin, and is looking forward to the start of the new rodeo season at Labour Weekend.

Most of her closest friends came from rodeo and the lifelong friendships forged there made the sport, she said.

Add a Comment


Rural Conversations - ‘What steps are you taking to stay competitive and resilient in the face of domestic and global challenges’