Over time there are a number of future benefits that are likely to accrue to the rural health workforce.
These include:

  • likely increases in the amount of research and capacity building which should deliver a return in the future;
  • likely increases in the numbers of people willing to spend some time in the country over the period of their career;
  • likely improvements in the perceptions of urban-based clinicians who will have a greater understanding of issues faced in country areas; and
  • likely ongoing growth of networks and social support which can reduce isolation and pressures of work.
A benefit which has already been demonstrated is that of increasing the skills and knowledge of local practitioners, due to their involvement in teaching and supervision. A number of doctors and nurses noted that teaching requires them to hone their own clinical skills and knowledge, and that the presence of students encourages greater diligence in reading the professional journals and keeping up with recent research. This should lead to an increased level of evidence-based practice in the rural environment, and a continuing improvement in the quality of the health care available to consumers. The UDRHs in particular have actively contributed to the research capacity and output of rural clinicians, and the role of UDRHs as an enabler of research and development has been noted by many.

An additional benefit, noted by some clinicians, is the increased satisfaction and affirmation which teaching provides. A sense that one does actually know quite a lot, or does one’s job well, was named as bringing renewed interest and enthusiasm to the work. Some doctors noted that this had assisted them to remain in their current position when they might otherwise have burnt out and re-located to the city.

However, as already noted, increasing numbers of students moving through the rural health services over a period of time may lead to burnout or inability to provide sufficient training and supervision. Both RCSs and UDRHs tend to ‘trade’ on goodwill and favours with local health service providers (who unless delivering lectures/tutorials are often unpaid), and there is some concern that overloading them will eventually erode goodwill. This could be addressed through ensuring that the health system has the capacity to provide sufficient numbers of clinicians willing to take on training responsibilities, thus sharing the burden amongst a greater number of people and lessening the demands on any one individual. Recommendations 13 and 15 above are especially pertinent here, as the interdependence of these two Programs with the rural health services means that cooperation is required to ensure that over time the impact of the Programs on the rural health workforce is positive rather than negative.

At this point in time, however, it can be said that there have been some positive impacts on the local workforce through additional opportunities for teaching, research and professional development. The keys for the future will be continuing to develop means for supporting and encouraging rural health practitioners, and demonstrating that students who train through the RCS or UDRH Programs do in fact return to ease the burden currently facing rural health services.

Recommendation 23:

That the UDRH Program continues to increase its research capacity building assistance to rural health clinicians.

Recommendation 24:

That the RCS Program increases its focus on research capacity once the medical teaching infrastructure and curriculum are established.

Recommendation 25:

That the RCS and UDRH Programs, in consultation with the Department, State/Territory-funded health services, and workforce agencies, develop additional mechanisms for supporting and nurturing rural health practitioners, such as an increasing involvement in professional development and continuing education, as a means of retention.