Rural health research in front

  • Speakers at the symposium

The tag line for the Sixth Rural and Remote Health Scientific Symposium ( is ‘Outback Infront: 20 years of rural and remote health research’. As well as being factually correct (it has been 20 years of research activity!) it also sends another message about the importance of health research in rural Australia – the importance of placing our researchin front’.

In the short period of time that I have been directly associated with the work of the National Rural Health Alliance it has become very clear that we need to do more in advocating for better health outcomes for rural Australia. There is a need not only to highlight the substantial discrepancies in health outcomes experienced by country people compared to their metropolitan counterparts, but also to provide the definitive advice as to what service models and approaches to healthcare actually work.

It is only on the basis of developing new models of care or ways of providing care, implementing them in situ, evaluating them, studying the impacts and documenting the outcomes do we build our knowledge of what things contribute to providing better health outcomes for country people. This is the essence of the importance of research in my mind. We need to know, individually and collectively, what models work best for people living in rural and remote Australia. We will be asked to demonstrate our knowledge about this, establish the veracity of our arguments, and demonstrate our credentials. Governments will not invest (and nor should they) in addressing the health outcome gap experienced by country people without them being convinced that the solutions we propose arise out of a solid foundation of best practice, evidence based research.

The Alliance, in partnership with its collaborating member bodies, the Australian Rural Health Education Network (ARHEN), the Federation of Rural Australian Medical Educators (FRAME), as well as the Primary Health Care Research and Information Service (PHCRIS) is incredibly proud to host this opportunity to share knowledge and experience in the development and implementation of new service initiatives. In all we have 48 individual concurrent presentations on topics ranging from new approaches to improving the capacity of our rural health workforce; integrated learning in rural practice settings; advances in early childhood learning and development; and understanding the prevalence of alcohols and drug use in rural Australia.

In the opening plenary session National Rural Health Commissioner, Paul Worley, will set the scene and join, with Hugh Taylor from Melbourne University, using his long experience in research on Indigenous eye health, to demonstrate the transferability of methodology to other areas of health research.

Prominent rural health researchers Lesley Barclay, Lucie Walters, Ross Bailie, Dennis McDermott and David Lyle will discuss how research has shaped the rural health sector over the past 20 years.

Some of the lessons from research on rural primary health care services will be the focus for John Wakerman, John Humphreys, Sue Lenthal and Bob Wells. They will discuss the prerequisites for different service models; community engagement and expectations; and aspects of the rural health workforce. Case studies will demonstrate the influence of research on policy and practice.

Day Two will feature a Closing the Gap session with Tom Calma, Chairman of Ninti One; the Heart Foundation's Judith Katzenellenbogen; and Alan Cass, Director, Menzies School of Health Research.

Some critical health economic issues will be considered in a session to be led by Leonie Segal from the University of South Australia. Claire Sparke from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare will present on local level reporting of patient experiences of the coordination and continuity of care.

As part of the Alliance’s continuing commitment to build capacity in the rural and remote health research sector, the Symposium will again offer lightning talks, posters and Rogano sessions designed to allow emerging and early-career researchers to workshop their projects with peers.

This is an opportunity to learn about the models that work in rural Australia, share the ideas, and contribute to the debate. It is important for all of us to start focussing on the solutions and it is only through our research activity that we confidently and meaningfully advocate for better health care for people in rural and remote Australia.

The Symposium is in Canberra on 11-12 April 2018. Register at

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