We have an interprofessional team working together on a multi-pronged project to develop and sustain innovative interprofessional allied health (AH) student placements in rural New South Wales (NSW). The work has been completed by staff from Three Rivers University Department of Rural Health (UDRH) and Charles Sturt University (CSU), initially independently of each other and now in close collaboration.
Interprofessional learning (IPL) is characterised as the collaboration of two or more practitioners working together and learning from and about one another in order to enhance teamwork and health quality (CAIPE, 2015). Geographic isolation, limited health care facilities, and large distances to access providers can provide unique opportunities for teamwork, mutual oversight, telehealth and interprofessional learning in the rural health care environments within the Three Rivers UDRH footprint.
The Three Rivers Placement Model (TRPM) is focused on providing undergraduate health degree students with a rural health workplace learning (WPL) opportunity in underserved communities, in order to achieve collaborative practice and address an identified community or service need. This is a new program co-designed by a group of rural health clinical educators from diverse fields such as social work, Indigenous health, podiatry, nursing, midwifery and psychology. Our model is theoretically informed and co-designed with a variety of academic and clinical collaborators, with the end goal of fostering collaboration and increasing rural health workforce recruitment and retention.
Independent of the UDRH work, academics from Charles Sturt University have been developing an AH interprofessional placement approach in an international setting and then refining this approach for use in rural NSW. A key challenge identified in AH rural placements is difficulty finding staff to supervise and assess students, particularly if the traditional supervision model of full time, 1:1 supervision is required. The CSU team have investigated this with AH supervisors experienced in international interprofessional placements (Skinner et al, 2020) and rural AH supervisors experienced in supervising their own profession but not students from other professions (Skinner et al, 2021). A new model of shared supervision, including shared assessment – the Interprofessional Assessment (IP-Assessment) model – has evolved from this research, with further research now planned in collaboration with Three Rivers UDRH.
The authors have worked together supporting physiotherapy service-learning placements at Yoorana Gunya in Forbes, and walu-win (Orange Aboriginal Medical Service) and Glenroi Heights Public School in Orange. These placements involve service-learning projects and interprofessional shared supervision. Whilst each placement does require some supervision from a physiotherapist, as little as six hours per week can still support very effective learning opportunities for the students. Supervision is shared with other professionals including nurses, exercise physiologists and teachers. These placements have provided students with both relevant physiotherapy experiences and additional learning opportunities in cultural responsiveness and project development.
The combined CSU/UDRH team acknowledge that supervising and assessing students in these placement models differs from traditional supervision. The team plan to continue their research by piloting the IP-Assessment model across non-traditional placement types inclusive of service-learning projects (AH students in schools or Aboriginal Medical Services); placements where there is part-time supervision by an AH supervisor; and placements in services where that profession is not usually present.
We hope our refined models will, in the short term, support sustainable interprofessional placement capacity in rural and remote Australia and, in the longer term, contribute to recruitment and retention of AH professionals capable of providing interprofessional, culturally responsive health care.