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Review Article

Challenges to student transition in allied health undergraduate education in the Australian rural and remote context: a synthesis of barriers and enablers

Submitted: 25 March 2014
Revised: 20 August 2014
Accepted: 29 September 2014
Published: 27 April 2015

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Author(s) : Spiers MC, Harris M.

Melanie SpiersMartin Harris

Citation: Spiers MC, Harris M.  Challenges to student transition in allied health undergraduate education in the Australian rural and remote context: a synthesis of barriers and enablers. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2015; 15: 3069. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au/articles/subviewnew.asp?ArticleID=3069 (Accessed 24 October 2017)

ABSTRACT

Introduction:  The optimum supply of an allied health workforce in rural and remote communities is a persistent challenge. Despite previous indicative research and government investment, the primary focus for rural and remote recruitment has been on the medical profession. The consequent shortage of allied health professionals leaves these communities less able to receive appropriate health care. This comprehensive review incorporates a literature analysis while articulating policy and further research implications.
Methods:  The objective was to identify drivers to recruitment and retention of an allied health workforce in rural and remote communities. This issue was observed in two parts: identification of barriers and enablers for students accessing allied health undergraduate tertiary education, and barriers and enablers to clinical placement experience in rural and remote communities. A search of empirical literature was conducted together with review of theoretical publications, including public health strategies and policy documents. Database searches of CINAHL, Medline, ERIC, PsychInfo and Scopus were performed. Selection criteria included Australian research in English, full text online, keywords in title or abstract, year of publication 1990 to 2012 and research inclusive of rural and remote context by application of the Australian Standard Geographical Classication (ASGC) Remoteness Structure. Theoretical publications, or grey literature, were identified by broad Google searches utilising a variety of search terms relevant to the review objective. Allied health professions were defined as including audiology, dietetics, occupational therapy, optometry, orthoptics, orthotics and prosthetics, pharmacy, physiotherapy, podiatry, psychology, radiography, social work, speech pathology and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers.
Results:  A total of 28 empirical publications met the selection criteria with a further 22 grey literature texts identified with relevance to the research objective. Patterns of barriers and enablers for rural and remote student transition in the allied health professions were identified in the literature. Recruitment pathways to allied health tertiary studies in rural and remote communities are vague and often interrupted, and the return of graduates is haphazard. Students from rural and remote communities face an assembly of barriers. They often experience secondary education disadvantage with inadequate subject choices, pathways and opportunities. Programs designed to facilitate transition to tertiary study are often limited in their capacity to address cumulative concerns. Students also face financial imposts and are confronted by daunting social isolation, and separation from families and support systems. In regard to clinical placement, the disincentives weigh heavily. The financial burdens of a rural placement offer little inducement. Social isolation associated with a placement far from home is more acutely felt by students when there is inadequate administrative support and consequent disillusionment. Students also lack a frame of reference to pursue a rural placement option, and are often discouraged by the cumulative commitments involved.
Conclusions:  Clear and accessible pathways to allied health training for students from rural and remote communities are pivotal to a stronger representation of this cohort among graduates. Similarly, greater representation of rural and remote clinical placements for allied health undergraduate students is an important facilitator. Despite regional coordination and strategies designed to promote a broader range of placement opportunities, the problems remain. This review has consequences for policy and program development for growth of the rural allied health workforce in Australia, as well as identifying knowledge deficits to guide future research endeavours.

Key words: allied health, Australia, education, rural communities, workforce.

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