Australian Journal of Rural Health Special Issue: Exploring grand challenges of the rural health workforce

Friday, 29 October 2021
AJRH october cover

The Australian Journal of Rural Health (the Journal) has published a Special Issue, raising some of the “grand challenges in delivering a sustainable health workforce for rural Australians”.

Volume 29 Number 5 was released in October 2021 by guest editors Associate Professor Martin Jones and Ms Sandra Walsh from University of South Australia Department of Rural Health; Professor David Lyle from Broken Hill University Department of Rural Health; and Associate Professor Vincent Versace from Deakin Rural Health.

Their Special Issue editorial, Return of the unexpected: Rural workforce recruitment and retention in the era of COVID-19, discusses the additional strain on the rural health system from COVID-19, the consequent relocation of people from city to country and the further disruption caused within the fragmented rural health workforce.

Roberts et al investigate the effects of COVID-19 on the mental health of rural paramedics, police, community nursing staff and child protection staff. They reported high levels of depression and anxiety, attributed to the organisational response to COVID-19. But what of the long-term impacts? What will all this mean for rural communities? 

“[Rural communities] already experience health access challenges, an ageing population, and social and economic disadvantages. Having appropriately and effectively resourced health services in rural communities, now more than ever, should be one of our highest priorities.

“We have a long-standing, and well-documented, battle to attract and retain health care professionals to rural areas, particularly as the location becomes more remote. The most significant investment we could make right now for the betterment of rural health is in people.”

The Special Issue covers a range of ‘grand challenges’ such as the use and articulation of various data sources; the lifestyle aspects of attracting professionals to rural communities; barriers to rural employment for mature-aged professionals; and the importance of community-led solutions.

“One of the standouts of the evaluation of the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training (RHMT) program was about the role of the program in strengthening the social fabric of rural Australia and perhaps how we should view our approach to creating a sustainable rural health workforce. The time of geographical narcissism is over.”

The editors concluded that holistic strategies must be put in place to recruit and retain health care workers.

“Reflecting on our experience as rural academics and the themes which emerged from this special edition, ‘Dropping people in the bush’ is not fair on healthcare workers or the community. Holistic solutions founded on rural autonomy, governance and place-based solutions offer the best chance for attracting and retaining people and will, ultimately, build the capital of rural areas.”