Rural Areas Experiences are an innovative initiative to provide higher education institutions with rural health education and training opportunities for health science students.
When researching workforce solutions for a group of health practitioners across multiple rural sites, we recognised that complementing clinical placements with an ’Experience’, significantly improved attraction and retention rates in rural areas. Ninety-three per cent of participants actively explored rural careers after completing the program.
What is the secret? Rural Areas Experiences combine elements of a clinical placement with a highly intensive and immersive field trip experience that can be delivered cost-effectively, allowing higher education institutions to provide unique learning experiences for students.
Jeanie recently joined forces with La Trobe University to share the Rural Areas Experience with final year oral health students in Streaky Bay and Wudinna (Eyre Peninsula, South Australia).
The two-week tailored Experiences typically include visits to clinical settings and participation in interactive sessions with community groups and other rural and allied health professionals. Participants have the opportunity to practice social engagement and leadership skills by engaging with the community and learn first-hand how multidisciplinary health teams operate in rural areas.
Students develop relationships with other health professionals, health care organisations and community, which provide rich learning opportunities and are transferable skills for life after university.
‘Our primary aim is to help students develop a deep understanding of the rural health sector and how they can contribute, so they can make informed career choices,’ said Dr Dennis.
La Trobe University student, Khushwinder, says the program enabled her to observe, perceive, consider and appreciate what rural communities have to offer for oral health professionals.
‘As a result of this experience I am confidently able to say that I have realised the potential to excel in the career pathway being a part of a rural community and will definitely be looking to come back after the formal completion of my education.
‘This program has provided me an insight of what my personal lifestyle as well as career lifestyle will look like in rural and I could ask for nothing more.
‘It is a program that everyone should embark on to experience the teamwork, communication, personal and career development (that) an individual searches for whilst completing their education,’ Khushwinder said.
Julia, another La Trobe University student, is also now considering how ‘going rural’ can fit into her career plan. She says the two-week Rural Areas Experience allowed her to acknowledge that she has full control over how she chooses to navigate her own career trajectory.
‘The program is helping me move towards a better understanding of patient–practitioner relationships, oral health status, the oral health care system as well as access to promote and hopefully support better health equity and cultural competence in health care.
‘I am aware of the impact I can make as an oral health care worker and have more perspective on the gaps and barriers within the industry especially prevalent in rural locations,’ Julia said.
Julia created a video showcasing her journey on the Rural Areas Experience program.