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An innovative model improving success at university for regional Australians suffering educational and social disadvantage

Submitted: 1 December 2008
Revised: 24 February 2009
Published: 26 March 2009

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Author(s) : Latham H, Hamilton M, Manners J, Anderson J.

Heather LathamMargaret HamiltonJan MannersJudith Anderson

Citation: Latham H, Hamilton M, Manners J, Anderson J.  An innovative model improving success at university for regional Australians suffering educational and social disadvantage. Rural and Remote Health 9: 1128. (Online) 2009. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au

ABSTRACT

Context:  Regional Australia is critically short of registered nurses (RNs) due to an ageing nursing workforce and difficulty in attracting new staff. It is recognised that rural background is the most influential factor shaping a health professional’s decision to practise in regional areas. Because of this, Charles Sturt University (CSU), with campuses throughout regional New South Wales (NSW), Australia, offered a bachelor of nursing by distance education (DE), enabling rural and remote enrolled nurses (ENs) trained by the Department of Technical and Further Education (TAFE) to upgrade their qualifications to RN. However, despite the flexible study mode offered, many rural and remote ENs were reluctant to progress to university study. This article describes an outreach model developed in recognition of the importance of supporting ENs to undertake RNs studies.
Issue:  Theories of social capital informed the model, which assisted understanding of the reluctance of rural and remote ENs to undertake university studies to become RNs. Most of the ENs lived and worked in communities where this was not an expectation; in addition, they were not members of social networks that knew about university study. The model assisted the development of participants by recognising and respecting barriers to their university participation. These barriers included their: self-perception as learners; concept of a university and themselves as university students; understanding of enrolment processes and course progression; understanding of what university study entails and the supports available in both community and university. Central to the model was the provision of face-to-face academic workshops for the ENs in the communities where they lived and worked. This allowed direct contact with university lecturers and support staff, enabling the rural ENs to establish the trustworthiness of ‘the messengers’. Once this was achieved they were able to build a personal connection with the university and potential support providers, and to develop their own support networks. The workshops occurred at least 6 months before an intake of bachelor of nursing by DE.
Lessons learned:  Eight academic preparation workshops were conducted between 2003 and 2008 throughout rural and remote NSW with a total of 168 participants. Currently 89 participants (63%) have enrolled in the CSU Bachelor of Nursing course by DE. Successive workshops have built on knowledge acquired in this process. The model was supported by CSU and industry partnerships; since 2005 the academic preparation workshops have been supported by area health services’ (AHSs) promotion, participation and funding. The workshops now form part of the AHSs’ nursing recruitment strategy and have been endorsed by the Nursing and Midwifery Office, Aboriginal Nursing and Midwifery, NSW Health. The CSU believes the model has potential application beyond prospective nursing.

Key words:  bachelor of nursing, distance education, rural workforce, social capital.

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