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Original Research

Student opinions on a rural placement program in New South Wales, Australia

Submitted: 11 January 2011
Revised: 15 March 2011
Published: 18 May 2011

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Author(s) : Johnson GE, Blinkhorn AS.

George JohnsonAnthony Blinkhorn

Citation: Johnson GE, Blinkhorn AS.  Student opinions on a rural placement program in New South Wales, Australia. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2011; 11: 1703. Available: (Accessed 17 October 2017)


Introduction:  Australia’s dental workforce is largely metropolitan, with a corresponding lack of dentists in rural areas. Some evidence from the discipline of medicine suggests that providing a rural placement program for undergraduates may encourage them work in a rural area post-graduation. Therefore, the University of Sydney Faculty of Dentistry implemented a rural placement program for final year dental undergraduates with funding provided by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.
Methods:  In 2009, a one-month Rural Placement Program was introduced for 4th (final) year dental undergraduates. Of the 80 fourth year students, 40% volunteered to participate in the program. Their views on the program were collected in pre- and post-questionnaires which were self-completed. Framework analysis was used to identify common themes in the student responses. This article focuses on the placement experience of the participants with particular emphasis on the factors and barriers which influenced their intention to work in a rural location post-graduation.
Results:  Participants’ characteristics included a mean age of 27 years, 59% female and 77% had been raised in a city environment. All the participants completed the pre- and post-placement questionnaires. The most common pre-placement hopes were to increase their clinical skills and to experience a rural environment. Pre-placement concerns related to missing lecture time at the university and having less time there to complete their clinical quota requirements. Over half of the students (57%) were considering employment in a rural location prior to the placement. Post-placement the students reported being pleased with the clinical experience provided, with increased time management skills and clinical confidence emphasised. The rural clinical supervisors and staff were highly rated by students for their support, helpfulness and teaching ability. After the placement the majority of students (97%) were considering working in a rural environment once qualified. Positive factors identified as influencing their decision were the broad clinical range of procedures available, good clinical mentors, reduced commuting and a quieter lifestyle. Barriers to working in a rural location were identified as missing friends, partners and the number of available job opportunities. All participants would recommend the placement to future students.
Conclusions:  In this successful undergraduate Rural Placement Program the students valued both personal and educational components. They became more aware of the potential advantages of working in a rural location and almost all would consider working in a rural area after graduation.

Key words: barriers, dental undergraduates, rural placement, student opinions.

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