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Original Research

A national study into the rural and remote pharmacist workforce

Submitted: 11 May 2012
Revised: 11 January 2013
Accepted: 16 January 2013
Published: 20 May 2013

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Author(s) : Smith JD, White C, Roufeil L, Veitch C, Pont L, Patel B, Battye K, Luetsch K, Mitchell C.

Janie SmithCol WhiteLisa PontBhavini Patel

Citation: Smith JD, White C, Roufeil L, Veitch C, Pont L, Patel B, Battye K, Luetsch K, Mitchell C.  A national study into the rural and remote pharmacist workforce. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2013; 13: 2214. Available: (Accessed 25 April 2017)


Introduction:  As for many health professionals, distance presents an enormous challenge to pharmacists working in rural and remote Australia. Previous studies have identified issues relating to the size of the rural and remote pharmacist workforce, and a number of national initiatives have been implemented to promote the recruitment and retention of pharmacists in rural and remote locations. The aim of this study was to explore and describe the current rural and remote pharmacy workforce, and to identify barriers and drivers influencing rural and remote pharmacy practice.
Methods:  A mixed-methods approach was used, which comprised a qualitative national consultation and a quantitative rural and remote pharmacist workforce survey. Semi-structured interviews (n=83) and focus groups (n=15, 143 participants) were conducted throughout Australia in 2009 with stakeholders with an interest in rural and remote pharmacy, practising rural/remote pharmacists and pharmacy educators, and as well as with peak pharmacy organizations, to explore the issues associated with rural/remote practice. Based on the findings of the qualitative work a 45-item survey was developed to further explore the relevance of the issues identified in the qualitative consultation. All registered Australian pharmacists practising in non-urban locations (RRMA 3-7, n=3,300) were identified and invited to participate in the study, with a response rate of 23.4%.
Results:  The main themes identified from the qualitative consultation were the impact of national increases in the pharmacist workforce on rural/remote practice; the role of the regional pharmacy schools in contributing to the rural/remote workforce; and the perceptions of differences in pharmacist roles in rural/remote practice. The survey indicated that pharmacists practising in rural and remote locations were older than the national average (55.8 years versus 40 years). Differences in their professional role were seen in different pharmacy sectors, with hospital pharmacists spending significantly more time on the delivery of professional services and education and teaching, but less time on medication supply than community pharmacists. Rural/remote pharmacists were generally found to be satisfied with their current role. The main ‘satisfiers’ reported were task variety, customer appreciation, use of advanced skills, appropriate remuneration, happiness in their work location, sound relationships with other pharmacists, a happy team and relationships with other health professionals.
Conclusion:  This study described the distribution, roles and factors affecting rural and remote pharmacy practice. While the results presented provide an extensive overview of the rural/remote workforce, a comparable national study comparing rural/remote and urban pharmacists would further contribute to this discussion. Knowledge on why pharmacists chose to work in a particular geographical location, or why pharmacists chose to leave a location would further enrich our knowledge on what drives and sustains the rural/remote pharmacist workforce.

Key words: barriers, community, enablers, hospital, pharmacy, recruitment, remote, retention, rural, workforce.

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