Building research capacity and culture within rural health services

  • Ryan McGrath recently joined the Department of Rural Health at the University of Melbourne; he shares a dual role at Goulburn Valley Health in Shepparton to build research capacity and culture. 
    Ryan McGrath recently joined the Department of Rural Health at the University of Melbourne; he shares a dual role at Goulburn Valley Health in Shepparton to build research capacity and culture. 
  • The Rural Health Academic Network (RHAN) at the University of Melbourne has been partnering directly with rural health organisations across north-east Victoria since 2006. 
    The Rural Health Academic Network (RHAN) at the University of Melbourne has been partnering directly with rural health organisations across north-east Victoria since 2006. 

The Rural Health Academic Network (RHAN) is a health workforce initiative of the University of Melbourne Department of Rural Health, which has been partnering directly with rural health organisations since 2006.

The network provides crucial research leadership to our rural health partners and consists of jointly funded academics based across four rural Victorian health services: Northeast Health Wangaratta; Nathalia, Cobram, Numurkah (NCN) Health Service; Echuca Regional Health Service; and Goulburn Valley Health (GV Health).

The RHAN team works to support education and build research capacity in these health service organisations, undertaking a range of evaluations, service development projects and student supervision, and supporting the rural health workforce in research and professional development.

Through RHAN, rural healthcare practitioners have the support of both partners – the university and the health providers – to deliver services for the benefit of the local community.

A qualitative review co-authored by Drs Olivia King, Claire Quilliam, Kristen Glenister and others suggests that research opportunities may support retention of staff members in rural areas.

‘Improving the research capacity and culture encourages health services to review their services, keep up to date with current health evidence and develop innovative modes of service delivery to make sure their patients receive the best care.

‘The busyness of rural health services can mean that research is not always prioritised and the RHAN network aims to bridge this gap,’ said Professor Lisa Bourke from the University of Melbourne.

Originally from Albury, Ryan McGrath recently joined the Department of Rural Health in Shepparton as the RHAN Coordinator, GV Health.

Ryan’s roles at GV Health and the University of Melbourne are synergistic and aim to support health clinicians engaged in research that is relevant to a rural community.

In these roles, Ryan supports clinicians interested in doing small-scale research projects to conduct research and training programs, while working with other external stakeholders to support research capacity and culture at GV Health.

Ryan has found working with clinicians on research to be extremely rewarding.

‘While I enjoy the one-on-one aspect of being a clinician, if you’ve got systemic barriers impacting people’s health and wellbeing, I find it rewarding being involved in aiming to address them.

‘As a clinician, you work so closely with community members, you want to advocate for their needs and wellbeing, which can lead to research as an avenue of making change,’ says Ryan.

RHAN projects and publications reflect the diversity of rural health and the individual clinical research and workforce priorities of our partner organisations. Most importantly, the rural community that each RHAN coordinator is embedded within, and its individual health needs, are at the centre of our work.

Working with nursing, medicine, allied health and health administration disciplines in addition to local councils, primary health networks and community groups, RHAN has seen a sustained impact, particularly in the area of workforce role development.

Each of these initiatives enhances the capacity of our rural populations to access timely and effective care.

Impactful projects have included:

  • Improved service delivery and models of care in aged care, intake, Aboriginal health and other areas.
  • Nurse practitioner education programs in mental health, aged care, critical care, palliative care and emergency care.
  • Development of rural and isolated practice endorsed registered nurses (RIPERNs) to support after-hours urgent care and research informing clinical practice using telehealth technology.
  • Community and health service user input into local health care.
  • Enhanced research programs and connections to statewide research activities.
  • Development of community activities in food insecurity, housing and others.

To learn more about the Department of Rural Health at the University of Melbourne visit medicine.unimelb.edu.au/school-structure/rural-health

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