Increasing rural and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student enrolments in health

  • Graphic of Australia showing Flinders University locations in NT and SA
Professor Robyn Aitken
Flinders University, College of Medicine and Public Health
Professor Robyn Aitken,
Dean of Rural and Remote Health SA & NT

Flinders University Rural and Remote Health (Flinders) has a considerable presence in rural and remote communities throughout the Australian central corridor in South Australia (SA) and the Northern Territory (NT). With a primary goal to improve the health and wellbeing of the communities we serve, live and work in, Flinders has developed activities and programs tailored to meet their diverse needs. Many activities are supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Health's Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training (RHMT) Program.

One of Flinders’ main goals for the future is to increase the number of rural-origin and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student enrolments in health disciplines and enable them to study in a rural or remote environment.

The successful Doctor of Medicine Rural Stream (MDRS), now in its 25th year, allows students to spend their entire third year connected to one of five SA rural campuses, actively participating in the care of patients through a local medical practice and associated health services. A recent study reported that, following graduation, more than one-third of MDRS graduates are practicing in a non-metropolitan community. With further studies, over half are specialist general practitioners. Flinders also offers a cohort of students the opportunity to study a three-year Bachelor of Nursing program at the Riverland campus in SA.

An expansion of the RHMT program in 2022 will support Flinders to establish a new model of multidisciplinary service-learning placements at sites in the Riverland, Mallee, and Coorong regions of SA. Working with health services, the project will scope capacity for extending current speech pathology and social work service-learning activities to include multidisciplinary placements for students studying to be allied health assistants, dietitians, audiologists, public health officers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, podiatrists and pharmacists from Flinders University, UniSA, University of Adelaide and TAFE SA. Priority will be given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and placements for rural-background students in services providing health care.

These programs and student placements will be offered in rural and remote communities and, where possible, allow students to study either close to home or live in subsidised university accommodation, supported by a team of professional staff. The project also includes secondments from local health services to address workforce retention by creating a pathway for early career allied health workers.  

To the north, there are six campuses in the NT where important research and education is being undertaken. Students from across the country studying allied health, medicine and nursing courses can complete their placements in the NT through the support of Flinders educators and subsidised accommodation. Dedicated Flinders staff offer a range of programs to help students understand, respect and immerse themselves in Aboriginal culture, while also showcasing the rewarding nature of working in rural and remote locations. The NT Medical Program is a success story, with 92 per cent of students who entered the program being NT residents, and more than half (54 per cent) opting to stay in the NT long term.

Flinders is committed to supporting the next generation of health workers to practice in a rural or remote location through successful placements and unique experiences. In this way, Flinders is improving the health and wellbeing of the communities it serves, lives and works in.

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