Understanding the perspectives of rural and remote staff in relation to research can help reflect on different mechanisms to improve rural and remote health research. Flinders University held a planning day for rural and remote staff from the Northern Territory and South Australia in March 2021. Day one of the sessions focused on research. Participants were asked to respond to three questions. The first sought to identify individual research priorities. Most of the responses were focused on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and workforce issues, followed by particular questions of health services, aged care and clinical research (such as ‘is program X effective?’).
One of the frequently mentioned themes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research was the need to not simply describe health problems but to implement and evaluate evidence-based programs in a culturally safe way. Linked to this theme was the importance of respecting culturally safe research processes. Engaging and supporting Aboriginal researchers was identified as an important pathway.
Some of the workforce themes included questions about improving cultural safety in health facilities and building the Aboriginal health workforce. The most frequently identified research questions in the workforce area focused on the student pipeline and the impact of rural and remote placements of nursing, allied health and medical students on future employment in rural and remote settings. Other priorities related to identifying specific data for workforce planning.
The second question sought to understand participants’ perspective of support needed from the college and Flinders Health Medical Research Institute to build rural and remote health research. The responses could be categorised into resources for rural research uplift, capacity building, mentorship and support, and capitalising on rural expertise.
There was a clear emphasis on designated resources for rural research through seed funding, travel grants and scholarships for rural-based higher degree research (HDR) students. Participants also highlighted the need for research skills training opportunities for rural and remote academics and clinicians. They emphasised the need for face-to-face workshops on research basics (design and methodology), Aboriginal research, systematic reviews and statistics. Central campus support for mentorship and support was reflected as integral for rural research development. The suggestions included a dedicated position to support HDR students, connecting early- and mid-career researchers with experienced researchers in the main campus, and supporting joint collaborative projects. Finally, the participants appreciated the expertise of rural academics and staff and recognised the opportunity to capitalise on this rural expertise.
The final question looked at participants’ views on steps they or their team would take to advance research or evidence-based practice. Suggestions grouped thematically into: develop their research skills; offer and share resources; and seek collaborations and information. Participants were keen to build their research skills in question development, data analysis and research methods. Although resources were of clear concern – including funding, time, information, and research support – participants indicated a desire to share their expertise. They would actively seek information on what research is occurring, what research groups exist, and the projects HDR students are conducting. They also sought to understand what stakeholders need from us.
Overall, it is clear from the results of this activity that participants value research and want it to be done well. They were keen to receive support and additional training, as well as share their expertise to build the profile of rural and remote research. To this end, connecting needs and resources should be done, and some new resources may need to be made available. Participants also valued collaborations and were keen to embark on new opportunities for research collaboration both inside and outside Flinders University – essential in the remote and rural research space.