Attracting and retaining a rural health workforce

  • Two people sitting on rocks looking out over valley
Flinders University
Professor Adrian Schoo, Fellow of ANZAHPE,
Prideaux Centre for Research in Health Professions Education,
College of Medicine and Public Health

What could assist new graduates and their managers to optimise rural workforce and health services outcomes?

In reflecting on the many factors that have been associated with compromised allied health recruitment and retention findings, and associated public access to rural health services, I thought to formulate three key points that new graduates and allied health professional (AHP) managers could consider to improve this.

New graduates

  1. When entering the rural health workforce, be prepared to encounter long-established work cultures and practices that may differ from what you may have experienced during undergraduate training.
  2. Dare to ask and seek clarification if needed. If you may not quite agree then nudging works better than confronting since others may resist and justify. Hence, continuing professional development (CPD) also needs to include non-clinical skill development such as leadership (e.g., time management) and communication skills (e.g., meeting and negotiating skills).
  3. Connect with the community (e.g., young professionals from other disciplines, sport, speaking at schools, voluntary work).

AHP managers and health services

  1. Become a learning organisation that provides a framework for positive learning and improving health services. The five disciplines (Senge) of such an organisation are in brief: a shared vision, the right mental models (eg. attitude and values), teamwork, mastery (skill enhancement), systems thinking (understanding the complexity of the work and health service environment).

    This framework can then be used constructively for staff induction and performance review so that staff is aware of what is expected and can evaluate their performance against that. The right leadership style need to be used for the occasion (eg. a servant or democratic leadership style in normal situations versus a more autocratic one during emergencies, keeping in mind that the latter attracts all responsibility and is not liked by staff when used in non-urgent circumstances).
  2. Encourage attendance of CPD, support a research culture and best practice (ie. being aware of the best clinical evidence, knowing personal clinical strengths and weaknesses, and appreciating patients’/clients’ preferences), student placement/fieldwork, and link these with career pathways that may go beyond a limited rural departmental or organisational level (eg. local, regional, across public and private sectors).
  3. As an organisation and department, respond to needs in the community and encourage staff to connect with the community. Foster a sense of belonging and ownership that goes beyond the departmental level. It is about finding meaning.
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