Wanted: A nurse for Scotland's most remote island

It is a unique opportunity to live and work in the most remote inhabited island in Britain.

Fair Isle is in search of a new nurse. Picture: Wikicommons
Fair Isle is in search of a new nurse. Picture: Wikicommons

Fair Isle, the southernmost community in the Shetland archipelago, is looking for a nurse to join its small yet thriving community.

With no doctor’s surgery, and transport links that are at the mercy of the weather, the 60-strong population has long relied on its resident nurse, a position first established at the turn of the 20th century.

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Despite the advent of air travel and improved telecommunications, the island’s isolated location – it lies 24 miles south of the Shetland mainland – means the nurse has a crucial role to play in everyday life.

A croft on Fair Isle. Picture: Wikicommons

The current postholder, Elena Mera Long, has been in Fair Isle for close to a decade, but is due to leave later this month. Now the recruitment drive to find her replacement has begun in earnest.

As the sole healthcare professional on the island, the candidate will be expected to tend to the island’s thriving community – which includes residents from as far afield as the US and Venezuela – as well as tourists who visit during the busy summer season to enjoy its abundant seabird population.

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The advertisement for the vacancy, posted by NHS Shetland, makes clear in its opening line that the position is noteworthy, asking simply: “Are you looking for a challenge?”

A croft on Fair Isle. Picture: Wikicommons

With a salary of up to £35,577, the health board will also offer the new nurse up to £8,000 towards relocation costs, and a further £1,721 a year in Distant Island Allowance payments.

Edna Mary Watson, chief nurse (community) at NHS Shetland, told Scotland on Sunday that the position required an individual with not only the right qualifications, but the right attitude.

She said: “It’s a special nursing job, because the challenge and excitement of the role is that you are expected to respond to everything and anything.”

Mera Long, who is leaving for a job in Romania, her husband’s homeland, is an example of how a new arrival on the island can quickly become a key cog in community life.

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As well as playing the church organ during Sunday services, she has also taught piano to many of the island’s children; llike many who make Fair Isle their home, she also embraced its proud textile heritage, knitting traditional patterned garments.

For the islanders - who featured in a recent BBC One Scotland documentary series, Fair Isle: Living on the Edge - the recruitment drive is viewed as crucial to providing healthcare, but also ensuring Fair Isle remains a viable community.

Two years ago, the population fell to 55, but it has been bolstered recently by several new arrivals, with others due to follow.

Ian Best, a crofter, boatbuilder and ferryman who has helped drive forward a community development plan to improve infrastructure on the island, said the vacancy offered a chance to enjoy a special way of life.

“Working on Fair Isle is special and the nurse’s job is no exception,” he said. “If you have a family, it’s a unique opportunity to work where you live and bring up your own children. It’s quality time.

“Having a resident nurse is absolutely key to the development of our community. We are trying to attract more young people to come and live here, and even one person makes a big difference. Everything plays its part on Fair Isle, no matter how small it may seem - it all has to be viable, and if you take one thing out the mix it has an impact.”

He added: “I’d encourage anyone thinking about it to give it a go. Fair Isle delivers far and away more than you ever could imagine, If you have an open mind, it is a wonderful place.”