Although 28% of Australians – around 7 million people – live in remote or rural areas, a large proportion of these communities continue to face challenges that those living in metropolitan areas do not, with one of the key issues being poorer health outcomes.
Data shows that people living in rural and regional areas are more likely to partake in risky health behaviours such as physical inactivity, smoking and consumption of alcohol and unhealthy foods. As such, they are more predisposed to disease, hospitalisations, deaths, and injury than those living in metropolitan areas.
Despite the increased need for health care, these communities continue to face restricted access to primary healthcare services, largely due to the shortage of a qualified workforce.
Why there’s a shortage:
The main issue lies with the recruitment and retention of Allied Health Care workers in regional and remote areas.
There is a widespread negative perception and a general lack of understanding of remote communities within the healthcare sector that is restricting the uptake of much-needed employees. This continues to be one of the largest barriers to employment in recent years.
To add to this, inadequate numbers of allied health professionals to meet community needs leads to a high level of stress and burnout for those that are working in these areas, thus resulting in high job turnover (and low retention).
What’s being done to encourage healthcare professionals to work in remote and rural areas:
Although many allied health undergraduates continue to hold an unfavourable perception towards working in rural communities, many initiatives have been implemented by the Australian Government in an attempt to solve the shortage within the rural workforce over the past 15 years. In 2004, the National Rural Health Alliance’ 2004 Position Paper outlined a number of recommendations that included:
- Launching programs in high schools to promote rural health careers and curriculum development
- The development of an appropriate curriculum for all allied health students to provide them with the skills required for rural practice
- Rural allied health placement subsidies to facilitate students undertaking a rural clinical placement by subsidising their travel and accommodation costs
- The development of a scholarship system for rural and remote undergraduate allied health students
- The Australian Government should provide national leadership, advocacy and funding to ensure that innovative and flexible models of sustainable allied health service delivery are replicated across Australia.
You can read more about the policies and programs that the Australian Government has in place to support the rural health workforce here.
Why you should consider a rural placement:
Despite a widespread misunderstanding towards rural placement opportunities, there is no better time to consider a rural placement in the face of sustained and emerging government initiatives.
There is no denying that an allied health position within rural Australia would be incredibly rewarding, in that you would be providing much-needed services to disadvantaged communities. Not only will you be changing the trajectory of the Australian allied healthcare sector, but you will experience endless opportunities for personal and professional development:
Personal benefits of working in a rural and remote area include:
- Typically, rural and regional areas offer a relaxed lifestyle and the opportunity to live in a unique natural environment. Many use this as a way to experience an adventure that they would never otherwise get the chance.
- Due to said relaxed lifestyle, remote environments offer fewer distractions and things to occupy your time and mind. This can be used as a time for your mental and emotional development.
- Closer to nature – Australia’s rural areas offer unique natural experiences and encounters that you would never find in the major cities!
- You will experience a supportive local community and benefit from living close to work. This is the opportunity to immerse yourself in Australian and Indigenous culture.
Professional benefits of working in a rural and remote area include:
- The opportunity to harness a greater sense of autonomy and responsibility
- The chance to gain experience in a variety of fields through working in a multidisciplinary team
- A diverse patient mix that will strengthen your ability to communicate and learn from others
- Access to professional development and support networks that will foster skills and develop leadership through the support of mentors and academics.
- A range of financial benefits such as rural and remote allowances. Government-funded organisations such as Going Rural Health provide training, accommodation and financial support, while RWAW supports the improvement and retention of health professionals in Rural Victoria. Search online to see what resources are available in your area.
How you can get involved:
Onfit Training College offers an accredited Certificate IV in Allied Health Assistance, which leads graduates on the path to becoming an assistant in Allied Health, Physiotherapy, or Community Rehabilitation.