Drivers of professional mobility in the Northern Territory: dental professionals
Citation: Hall DJ, Garnett ST, Barnes T, Stevens M. Drivers of professional mobility in the Northern Territory: dental professionals. Rural and Remote Health 7: 655. (Online) 2007. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au
Introduction: Attracting and retaining an efficient allied health workforce is a challenge faced by communities in Australia and overseas. High rates of staff turnover in the professional workforce diverts resources away from core business and results in the loss of valuable skills and knowledge. Understanding what attracts professionals to a particular place, and why they leave, is important for developing effective strategies to manage turnover and maximise workforce productivity. The Northern Territory (NT) faces particular workforce challenges, in part because of its geographic location and unusual demography. Do these factors require the development of a tailored approach to recruitment and retention? This article reports on a study undertaken to examine the motivations for coming to, staying in and leaving the NT for dental professionals, and the implications of results on workforce management practices.
Methods: In 2006, dentists, dental specialists, dental therapists and dental hygienists who were working or had worked in the NT, Australia, in the recent past were surveyed to collect demographic and workforce data and to establish the relative importance of social and work-related factors influencing their migration decisions. Multivariate logistic regression models were generated to describe the demographic characteristics of dental professionals who stayed in the NT for more than 5 years and to analyse why dental professionals left. The analyses, based on a 42% response rate, explained 60-80% of the variation in responses.
Results: Generally dental professionals who had stayed for more than 5 years were older, had invested in the purchase of homes and were more involved in social and cultural activities. Those who moved to the NT as a result of financial incentives or who had strong expectations that working in the NT would be an exciting, novel experience tended to stay for no more than 5 years, often leaving because they found the work environment too stressful. In contrast, those who stayed longer came because they had existing social networks and were familiar with the NT environment, staying primarily because they have enjoyed the NT lifestyle, particularly the sense of community and the opportunities available through living in smaller centres.
Conclusion: There are benefits in actively engaging newly recruited professionals and their families in social networks. Work related stress and departure was associated with administrative deficiencies within the management system. Despite the NT’s unusual demographic profile, the factors influencing recruitment and retention are not markedly different from those reported elsewhere.
Key words: Australia, dental therapists, dentists, migration decisions, Northern Territory, recruitment and retention, remote workforce.
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