The role of national policies to address rural allied health, nursing and dentistry workforce maldistribution

Sandra Walsh, David M. Lyle, Sandra C. Thompson, Vincent L. Versace, Leanne J. Browne, Sabina Knight, Sabrina W. Pit, Martin Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Web of Science)


Objective: Maldistribution of the health workforce between rural, remote and metropolitan communities contributes to longstanding health inequalities. Many developed countries have implemented policies to encourage health care professionals to work in rural and remote communities. This scoping review is an international synthesis of those policies, examining their effectiveness at recruiting and retaining nursing, dental and allied health professionals in rural communities.

Study design: Using scoping review methods, we included primary research - published between 1 September 2009 and 30 June 2020 - that reported an evaluation of existing policy initiatives to address workforce maldistribution in high income countries with a land mass greater than 100 000 km(2).

Data sources: We searched MEDLINE, Ovid Embase, Ovid Emcare, Informit, Scopus, and Web of Science. We screened 5169 articles for inclusion by title and abstract, of which we included 297 for full text screening. We then extracted data on 51 studies that had been conducted in Australia, the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Norway.

Data synthesis: We grouped the studies based on World Health Organization recommendations on recruitment and retention of health care workers: education strategies (n = 27), regulatory change (n = 11), financial incentives (n = 6), personal and professional support (n = 4), and approaches with multiple components (n = 3).

Conclusion: Considerable work has occurred to address workforce maldistribution at a local level, underpinned by good practice guidelines, but rarely at scale or with explicit links to coherent overarching policy. To achieve policy aspirations, multiple synergistic evidence-based initiatives are needed, and implementation must be accompanied by well designed longitudinal evaluations that assess the effectiveness of policy objectives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S18-+
Number of pages7
JournalMedical Journal of Australia
Issue numberSupplement 11
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


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