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Nourishing networks: an interprofessional learning model and its application to the Australian rural health workforce

Submitted: 28 November 2011
Revised: 23 May 2012
Published: 30 October 2012

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Author(s) : Little F, Brown L, Grotowski M, Harris D.

Fiona LittleLeanne BrownMiriam GrotowskiDeanne Harris

Citation: Little F, Brown L, Grotowski M, Harris D.  Nourishing networks: an interprofessional learning model and its application to the Australian rural health workforce. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2012; 12: 2022. Available: (Accessed 21 October 2017)


Context:  Access to continuing professional development for rural health clinicians requires strategies to overcome barriers associated with finances, travel and a lack of resources. Approaches to providing professional development need to transcend conventional educational methods and consider interprofessional educational opportunities to meet the diverse needs of the rural health workforce. Rural clinicians often work in professional isolation and frequently work collaboratively with clinicians from a range of other health disciplines. Interprofessional learning and practice is therefore important in a rural areas as clinicians working in these settings are often more reliant on each other and require an understanding of other’s roles to provide effective health care. In addition, specialist services are limited in rural areas, with health professionals increasingly required to perform extended roles at an advanced-practice level.
Issues:  A model for interprofessional learning has been developed to attempt to address the barriers related to the delivery of interprofessional education in the rural health setting in Australia. This model demonstrates a flexible approach to interprofessional learning which meets different educational needs across a number of health disciplines, and is tailored to varying levels of expertise. It incorporates three learning approaches: traditional learning, flexible learning and advanced practice. Each of these components of the model are described and the Nourishing Networks program is provided as an example of the application of the model in a rural setting, utilising ‘eating disorders’ as the educational topic.
Lessons learned:  Interprofessional learning can be delivered effectively in a rural setting by utilising technology to help bridge the isolation experienced in rural practice. Challenges in delivering the interprofessional learning program included: engaging rural general practitioners, utilising technology and maintaining participant engagement. The use of technology is essential to access a broad group of rural clinicians however, there are limitations in its use that must be acknowledged. The pilot of the Stepped Interprofessional Rural Learning Model and its application to eating disorders has scope for use in delivering education for other health topics.

Key words: allied health occupations, Australia, education continuing, GPs, interprofessional.

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