A home-grown workforce

  • University student group photo. Northern Territory Medical Program graduating class of 2022.

Northern Territory Medical Program graduating class of 2022.

Prof Robyn Aitken
By
Flinders University College of Medicine and Public Health
Prof Robyn Aitken,
Dean of Rural and Remote Health
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Rural and Remote Health (RRH) at Flinders University (Flinders) College of Medicine and Public Health is committed to building a home-grown workforce.

In 2023, we plan to continue building on our solid foundations. Our intention is to train locals who will one day return to work in regional and remote Australia. Flinders offers a range of sub-quotas for rural origin and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Studies have shown that students undertaking a rural or remote placement are more likely to return to a similar location after graduation. With 12 campuses across the Australian Central Corridor – from rural South Australia (SA) to the Northern Territory (NT) – there are many opportunities for students studying health degrees to experience rural and remote work.

Offering placements in these regions has proven successful, with more than one-third (36.8 per cent) of Flinders graduates who participated in the year-long rural SA placement, between 1999 and 2012, now working in non-metropolitan areas, as of 2017. Furthermore, 92 per cent of students who entered the NT Medical Program (NTMP) have identified as NT residents, with more than half (54 per cent) opting to stay in the NT beyond their return of service.

Our regional academic programs and research positively impact some of the most diverse and culturally rich communities in Australia. Our research aims to maintain and progress the rural and remote health agenda across SA and the NT. Many activities are supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care’s Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training (RHMT) program.

Flinders RRH in SA facilitates the Doctor of Medicine Rural Stream (MDRS) program, interprofessional placements program and community responsive research from hubs in the Mount Gambier, Victor Harbor, Barossa Valley and Riverland Mallee Coorong regions. The Regional Training Hub develops specialty medical training including partnerships that support the Rural Junior Doctor Program in the Limestone Coast.

Flinders RRH activities in the NT encompass regional and remote centres including Aboriginal communities. We deliver the NTMP and Bachelor of Paramedicine (NT) entirely in the NT; support students on clinical placements for nursing, allied health and dentistry; deliver a suite of postgraduate remote health practice courses; and manage the NT Regional Training Hub, which focuses on the rural medical training pipeline.

This year the NTMP will expand to 30 students, while researchers are working on innovative programs to improve health outcomes in remote areas. One program in Nhulunbuy has seen allied health students completing placements in the community while providing much-needed support in aged care services. While in its initial stages, the carefully considered program – co-designed with Yolngu people – has proven positive.

In 2023, we will graduate our first cohort of paramedicine students and actively engage with communities at regional, rural and remote events to promote health courses at Flinders and careers after university. Open days give school students and adults the opportunity to speak to university students, academics and enrolment representatives about the possibilities for their future.

An expansion of the RHMT program is supporting Flinders RRH to establish a new model of multidisciplinary service-learning placements at sites in the Riverland Mallee Coorong region of SA, as well as Katherine in the NT. Working with health services, students are extending speech pathology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and social work services through learning activities in schools and childcare services for Indigenous people.

These programs include jointly appointed local cultural experts and encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and rural-origin students to study close to home. Clinical/academic appointments also aim to address workforce retention by creating a pathway for early-career allied health workers to join the current suite of programs managed by Flinders RRH to assist in building our rural health workforce.

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