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Rural placements bridge health worker gap in remote Australia


New research conducted by the University of South Australia suggests that rural experience plays a significant role in addressing the shortage of health workers in Australia’s rural and remote communities.

The study analysed the work locations of health graduates from the University of South Australia and found that nearly half of the new rural allied health workforce in 2020 originated from metropolitan areas. Interestingly, 88% of these graduates had completed a rural placement during their studies.

One notable finding was that 25 graduates from the same cohort transitioned from metropolitan employment to rural practice within two years of graduation, and a majority of them (76%) had participated in a rural placement.

The findings hold crucial insights for a sector that has long struggled with attracting and retaining health workers. In rural and remote areas of Australia, where approximately 7 million people reside, there is a significant shortage of healthcare professionals despite higher medical needs.

Dr Lee Puah, a researcher from the UniSA Department of Rural Health, emphasises the importance of understanding the connection between rural placements and rural practice to address workforce shortages. Dr Puah states that every Australian deserves access to quality healthcare, but individuals in rural and remote communities face challenges in accessing health services compared to those in metropolitan centres.

“This type of research can help us understand and plan future placements to help address the maldistribution of the workforce. Our study found that rural placements were fundamental in attracting allied health professionals to rural areas, both after graduation and beyond as they provide a taste of the rural work environment.”

The study examined 264 students who completed podiatry, occupational therapy, or physiotherapy at the University of South Australia in 2019. Following graduation, 40 of them were practising in rural areas, with 26 remaining in rural practice two years later, indicating a 65% retention rate. Interestingly, by 2022, 25 city-based allied health professionals had transitioned to rural areas, with 76% of them having undergone a rural placement and 20% originating from rural areas.

The study focused on the federally-funded Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training (RHMT) program, offered by the University of South Australia Department of Rural Health. This program provides health students with the opportunity to receive training in rural and remote communities through a network of training facilities.

Dr Puah said the experience and insights gained through rural placement programs are critical for attracting and retaining allied health workers in rural and remote areas. He believes that addressing the health workforce shortage in these communities requires innovative approaches, and rural placement programs can be a part of the solution.

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Ritchelle is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel, Australia’s premier resource of information for healthcare.


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