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Project Report

Building capacity in the rural physiotherapy workforce: a paediatric training partnership

Submitted: 24 December 2012
Revised: 9 May 2013
Accepted: 10 July 2013
Published: 23 March 2014

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Author(s) : Williams EN, McMeeken JM.

Elizabeth WilliamsJoan McMeeken

Citation: Williams EN, McMeeken JM.  Building capacity in the rural physiotherapy workforce: a paediatric training partnership. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2014; 14: 2475. Available: (Accessed 19 October 2017)


Context:  ‘Building capacity in the rural physiotherapy workforce: a paediatric training partnership’ provided 6 months postgraduate paediatric clinical and academic training for two physiotherapists in rural Australia. It is described as a model for improving services and workforce retention. The need for ‘an appropriate, skilled and well-supported health workforce’ is the third goal in Australia’s National Strategic Framework for Rural and Remote Health 2011. The World Health Organization recently published its first global policy for improving the retention of rural and remote health workers. Education is its first recommendation and aims to ‘design continuing education and professional development programmes that meet the needs of rural health workers and that are accessible from where they live and work, so as to support their retention …’. Additionally, ‘… to be successful, continuing education needs to be linked to career paths, as well as with other education interventions’.
Issues:  The problem is a lack of paediatric physiotherapy expertise in rural areas due to an absence of postgraduate clinical training opportunities in the rural workforce. The result is fragmented local services for families who are forced to travel to metropolitan services, costly in terms of both time and money. The aims were to improve local paediatric physiotherapy clinical services, provide physiotherapists additional access to professional development and subsequently provide a career path to retain these health professionals. Evaluation of the project used purpose-built questionnaires as there are no specific indicators to monitor the performance of systems and services that are available to children and families in Australia.
Lessons learned:  The paediatric physiotherapy training program was enabled through initial funding for a 12-month pilot project. Further government funding built on that success for this reported 6-month project. Funding to employ the postgraduate physiotherapists was essential to the success of the clinical training program, and lack of future funding is a barrier to its sustainability. The program included the consolidation of the initial management and education committees and the expert reference group. Weekly tutorials, case studies and presentations formed an important part of clinical rotation between hospital outpatients, specialist school and the disability sector. This increased the provision of skilled paediatric physiotherapy services close to home in a timely fashion not previously available. Concurrently, the training increased the clinicians’ paediatric knowledge and confidence, promoting workforce retention by providing a career pathway. The senior clinicians who provided clinical supervision reported that it enabled succession planning through introduction of appropriately skilled younger peers to their clinical practice. Project recommendations are that funding and stakeholder partnerships are necessary to enable health professionals to undertake postgraduate clinical training in paediatrics in rural areas. The partnership should include education providers (university), rural health service providers (hospital) and community or disability services (government and non-government) with financial recognition of expertise in the rural workforce for clinical supervision. The training experience was reported as a very positive experience from trainees, families, clinical supervisors, managers, academics and paediatricians. Lack of continued funding to educate skilled postgraduate paediatric physiotherapy clinicians means that rural children with physical disabilities will continue to be disadvantaged.

Key words: health career path, paediatrics, physiotherapy, rural health professional education, rural workforce issues.

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