Tracking change on the rural workforce landscape: a longitudinal study of allied health recent graduates

A/Prof. Tony Smith1, A/Prof. Leanne Brown1, Dr Luke Wakely1, Ms Rebecca  Wolfgang1, Ms Alexandra Little1, Dr Julie Burrows1

1University Of Newcastle Department Of Rural Health, Taree, Australia


The University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health (UONDRH) is part of the Australian Government’s Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training (RHMT) Program, providing high quality education experiences for health professional students and building rural health workforce capacity. UONDRH is undertaking research aimed at tracking employment outcomes of allied health students who participated in the program.

This study began in 2011 and targets Medical Radiation Science, Nutrition and Dietetics, Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy and Speech Pathology students. Participants complete one or more of three components:
• an end-of-placement survey,
• end-of-placement semi-structured interview, and
• a follow-up survey at one, three and five years after graduation.
Work location by remoteness area (RA) classification is compared for rural or urban origin and factors influencing career planning.

One year follow-up was completed by 167 ex-students (53% of eligible participants), 60 after 3 years (44%). At 1 year, 82 (49%) respondents worked in RA2 to RA5 locations, 57 (70%) of who were of rural background. After 3 years, of 21 (35%) who worked in RA2-5 locations, 10 (48%) were of rural origin. Though numbers are small (n=6), at 5 years follow-up, one third were employed in RA2-5. Practice location was most influenced by rural upbringing, placement experience, work availability and personal commitments.

This study is ongoing until 2019. While results suggest a higher proportion of UONDRH graduates enter rural practice than for the Australian Graduate Survey, further tracking will provide insight into how the UONDRH impacts on rural health workforce capacity building.


Tony Smith is a radiographer with over 30 years’ experience. He has worked in both public hospitals and private practices and as an academic at the University of Newcastle. In 2003, he relocated to Tamworth as the Medical Radiation Science academic in the then newly established the University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health. He is currently Associate Professor and Academic Lead – Research in the Department and is based in Taree on the NSW Mid-North Coast.

Tony’s research interests are in allied health workforce and interprofessional education and practice. He has a long term interest in the education and support of GPs and nurses who perform limited-licence radiography in rural and remote locations.

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