Developing dietetic positions in rural areas: what are the key lessons?
Citation: Brown LJ, Williams LT, Capra S. Developing dietetic positions in rural areas: what are the key lessons? Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2012; 12: 1923. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au/articles/subviewnew.asp?ArticleID=1923 (Accessed 19 October 2017)
Introduction: Rural and remote communities in Australia are typically underserviced by dietitians. The recruitment of dietitians to rural areas has improved in recent years; however, retention remains an issue. Key factors that lead to an increase in funding and the development of more dietetic positions in rural areas are unknown. The purpose of this study was to describe dietetic services in rural areas and to determine the drivers for and barriers to the development of dietetic positions in rural areas.Key words: Australia, dietetics, rural workforce.
Methods: A sequential explanatory mixed methods approach was used to examine six case study sites of dietetic service delivery in rural northern New South Wales (NSW) Australia between 1991 and 2006. The six sites represented different models of dietetic service delivery from the study area. Data sources included workforce documents and in-depth individual interviews on position development with 40 key informants, including past and present dietitians, dietetic managers and health service managers. Interview data were thematically analysed with the aid of NVivo7 (www.qsrinternational.com). Themes were coded into common categories, using a constant comparison inductive approach.
Results: Forty key informants agreed to participate in the in-depth, semi-structured interview. Participants included 28 dietitians (past and present), three dietetics managers and nine managers. The majority of participants were female (87.5%). Document analysis showed that the dietetic workforce had a 5.6-fold increase across the six sites over the 15 years. Themes that emerged from the interviews indicated that new positions were established through ad hoc and opportunistic funding, a gradual increase in funding or due to concerted efforts by champions advocating for increased funding.
Conclusion: The findings from this study have important implications for the development of dietetic staffing in rural areas. There is an inconsistent approach to the development of dietetic positions in rural areas of Australia. Factors that inhibited the development of positions included a general lack of funds and competing priorities. A systematic, planned approach to the development of dietetic positions is needed in rural Australia. Champions for the development of positions were effective in increasing positions, particularly when they have management support.
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