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World first study reveals nurses, allied health workers more likely to take rural jobs if they study there

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The initial results from a world-first, 10-year study of more than 100 nursing and allied health graduates have found that the more time students spend in rural areas, the more likely they are to stay there once they have graduated.

In a recent press release by Monash University, there has been much focus on where medical students choose to study and practice with great emphasis on how to increase rural doctors meanwhile tracking the rate of nurses and allied healthcare workers have lagged behind.

The Nursing and Allied Health Graduate Outcome Tracking (NAHGOT) study tracked nursing graduates from Monash and Newcastle universities on what influenced them to study in rural and regional areas and to continue their practising there.

The study, published in The Australian Journal of Rural Health, is the first to reliably track allied health and nurses in rural Australia. The study reveals that addressing the rural health workforce shortages is the key to strategy in order to overcome the health inequities across rural Australia with emphasis on the need to increase rural placements in this cohort of healthcare students.

This study was funded under the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training Program and began tracking graduates in 2019 who completed their degrees in 2017 across seven disciplines.

According to the data; of the 1130 graduates, 51% were nurses, 81% females, 62% under 21 years at enrollment, 23% of rural origin, 62% had experienced at least one rural placement and 23% had over 40 cumulative days spent in rural placement.

The research team led by Dr Keith Sutton from the Monash School of Rural Health used data on principal place of practice from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency which revealed that nurses and allied health workers who were originally from a rural or regional area were 4.45 times more likely than urban graduates to practice in a rural area.

“The more time a student – whether in medicine, nursing or allied health – spends working in a rural setting the more likely they will remain once they graduate,” Dr Sutton said “There is a clear imperative for universities to ensure that the rural allied health and nursing shortage is addressed through appropriate student selection and training, with sufficient rural placement for a student to get a feel, and a love, for working in regional areas”.

Associate Professor Shane Bullock, Acting Director of the Monash School of Rural Health said the NAHGOT study is important because “there is an urgent need to increase the number of nurses and allied health workers in regional areas”.

The study will continue to monitor the 2017 graduates and the trajectory of their careers whether they are from a rural background, where they intended to practice and their expectations of the course. The graduates were resurveyed at the end of their course in between 3 and 4 years depending on the course as well as being followed for a further decade using the data to track outcomes including where they end up practicing, how often they move practices and what proportion end up in rural areas.

Dr Sutton emphasizes that the results of this long-term study will produce evidence that will lead to better government programs and policies related to rural education and workforce planning, university selection strategies and curriculum design.

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