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Original Research

How can general practitioners establish 'place attachment' in Australia's Northern Territory? Adjustment trumps adaptation

Submitted: 14 March 2010
Revised: 6 August 2010
Published: 1 November 2010

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Author(s) : Auer K, Carson D.

Kathrin AuerDean Carson

Citation: Auer K, Carson D.  How can general practitioners establish 'place attachment' in Australia's Northern Territory? Adjustment trumps adaptation. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2010; 10: 1476. Available: (Accessed 22 October 2017)


Introduction:  Retention of GPs in the more remote parts of Australia remains an important issue in workforce planning. The Northern Territory of Australia experiences very high rates of staff turnover. This research examined how the process of forming 'place attachment' between GP and practice location might influence prospects for retention. It examines whether GPs use 'adjustment' (short term trade-offs between work and lifestyle ambitions) or 'adaptation' (attempts to change themselves and their environment to fulfil lifestyle ambitions) strategies to cope with the move to new locations.
Methods:  19 semi-structured interviews were conducted mostly with GPs who had been in the Northern Territory for less than 3 years. Participants were asked about the strategies they used in an attempt to establish place attachment. Strategies could be structural (work related), personal, social or environmental.
Results:  There were strong structural motivators for GPs to move to the Northern Territory. These factors were seen as sufficiently attractive to permit the setting aside of other lifestyle ambitions for a short period of time. Respondents found the environmental aspects of life in remote areas to be the most satisfying outside work. Social networks were temporary and the need to re-establish previous networks was the primary driver of out migration.
Conclusion:  GPs primarily use adjustment strategies to temporarily secure their position within their practice community. There were few examples of adaptation strategies that would facilitate a longer term match between the GPs’ overall life ambitions and the characteristics of the community. While this suggests that lengths of stay will continue to be short, better adjustment skills might increase the potential for repeat service and limit the volume of unplanned early exits.

Key words:  adaptation, adjustment, Australia, general practice workforce, Northern Territory, place attachment, retention.

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