How to make them STAY

  • Physiotherapists from rural public health services shadowed a physiotherapist in a large regional health service ICU.

Physiotherapists from rural public health services shadowed a physiotherapist in a large regional health service ICU.
[Image: Bendigo Health Corporate and Community Affairs]

The Supporting and Teaching Allied Health Regionally (STAY) Project is implementing a range of professional support strategies across the Loddon Mallee region, which spans the north-western corner of Victoria from Kyneton to Mildura. These strategies aim to support and strengthen the allied health workforce in public and community health services.

As in many parts of Victoria, the Loddon Mallee health sector is increasingly focused on implementing strategies at a regional level. This approach has been supported by the establishment of the Loddon Mallee Health Network. Funded by this network, the STAY Project aims to meet the needs of allied health clinicians from a variety of contexts within the region, from small multipurpose services staffed by sole practitioners, through to the large regional health service with over 400 allied health clinicians.

The STAY Project priorities are based on data from manager interviews, clinician surveys and workforce data. The priorities are:

  • improving access to and quality of clinical supervision
  • increasing capacity and quality of student placements
  • improving access to professional support
  • enhancing graduate support
  • building the capacity of educators.

While the project has implemented a range of activities to address these priorities, two in particular have potential to enable networking and sharing across the region: professional shadowing and virtual group supervision.

In this context, shadowing is a form of professional development where a ‘peer learner’ observes a ‘peer leader’ to address a defined learning goal. The peer leader is often from a different service and has experience in the peer learner’s clinical area of interest. The STAY Project is developing guidelines to ensure this opportunity is easily accessible across the region, meets identified learning goals and is relevant to service needs.

An initial trial supported physiotherapists from rural health services that had recently become COVID streaming facilities to shadow a physiotherapist in the intensive care unit of a large regional hospital. This resulted in an increase in learners’ knowledge and confidence around management of critical care patients. It also allowed valuable networking between health services and identification of new equipment to be purchased to improve the quality of patient care. The STAY Project plans to arrange more trials like this in the coming year with hopes that it becomes a regularly available source of professional development in the region.

Group supervision is another strategy being supported by the STAY Project to improve support for allied health professionals. A number of experienced clinicians and managers within the region’s largest health service have successfully used group supervision in recent years, which has encouraged some rural health services to plan implementation of this strategy for 2023. Benefits of group supervision include promotion of interdisciplinary collaboration, peer learning and efficiency.

Staff in small rural health services often don’t have access to a more senior staff member to provide clinical supervision, or a large enough team to implement group supervision. The STAY Project plans to address this need by using a virtual platform to facilitate multidisciplinary group supervision for experienced staff from small rural health services within the region. It is hoped this will promote shared learning from peers in similar contexts, despite geographical distance.

Workforce challenges being experienced in the health sector, particularly among allied health disciplines and in rural and remote areas, are complex issues that require a broad range of strategies. Professional support is one element of the solution and is the focus of the STAY Project in the Loddon Mallee region. It is hoped that this project, by providing opportunities for sharing knowledge and skills, will help attract allied health professionals to our region and encourage those who are already here, to stay.

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