Learning from follow-up of student placements in a remote community: A small qualitative study highlights personal and workforce benefits and opportunities

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Background: The maldistribution of the Australian health workforce contributes to restricted accessibility and poorer health outcomes for rural and remote populations, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Student exposure to rural and remote settings is a long-Term strategy that aims to reduce workforce shortages by encouraging rural career uptake, with well-supervised, positive placement experiences associated with rural practice intentions. Furthermore, placements can build students' cultural capabilities and foster interest in working with disadvantaged and underserved Aboriginal communities. However, little is known about the translation of rural practice intentions to career paths, and the factors influencing employment decision-making and application of clinical and cultural content to professional practice. This in-depth study reports on the second stage of an investigation into the longer-Term impact of remote placements. Stage One identified factors that contributed to students' learning experiences and highlighted challenges encountered; Stage Two explored the impact on professional practice and employment decision-making amongst a subset of the original cohort. Methods: Of 12 interviews with participants who completed a remote placement in 2013/4 (Stage One), eight graduates were located four years later and seven were re-interviewed. Telephone interviews used a semi-structured schedule; each interview was recorded, transcribed and analysed for recurring themes and meanings. Results: At the time of interview, all participants were employed as health professionals and worked in Australia. The follow-up highlighted the enduring legacy of the student placement in terms of participants' personal and professional growth. The majority were employed in rural settings; some were attracted by a rural lifestyle and employment opportunities while others were drawn by a desire to reduce rural health disparities. Regardless of setting, all actively applied clinical and cultural learnings acquired on placement to their professional practice. Rural job security, professional support and opportunities for professional development were all influences on continuing rural practice. Conclusions: Despite the challenges of qualitative longitudinal follow-up, the findings of this study provide valuable information, which can inform scaled-up investigations into the role of placements in developing an expanded, more stable and culturally respectful rural workforce.

Original languageEnglish
Article number331
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sept 2019


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