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Original Research

Impact of the Northern Studies Stream and Rehabilitation Studies programs on recruitment and retention to rural and remote practice: 2002-2010

Submitted: 3 May 2014
Revised: 2 January 2015
Accepted: 20 January 2015
Published: 29 June 2015

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Author(s) : Winn CS, Chisholm BA, Hummelbrunner JA, Tryssenaar J, Kandler LS.

Citation: Winn CS, Chisholm BA, Hummelbrunner JA, Tryssenaar J, Kandler LS.  Impact of the Northern Studies Stream and Rehabilitation Studies programs on recruitment and retention to rural and remote practice: 2002-2010. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2015; 15: 3126. Available: (Accessed 21 October 2017)


Introduction:  A shortage of rehabilitation practitioners in rural and/or remote (rural/remote) practice areas has a negative impact on healthcare delivery. In Northern Ontario, Canada, a shortage of rehabilitation professionals (audiology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech–language pathology) has been well documented. In response to this shortage, the Northern Studies Stream (NSS) and Rehabilitation Studies (RS) programs were developed with the mandate to increase the recruitment and retention of rehabilitation professionals to Northern Ontario. However, the number of NSS or RS program graduates who choose to live and work in Northern Ontario or other rural/remote areas, and the extent to which participation in these programs or other factors contributed to their decision, is largely unknown.
Methods:  Between 2002 and 2010, a total of 641 individuals participated in the NSS and RS programs and were therefore eligible to participate in the study. Current contact information was obtained for 536 of these individuals (83.6%) who were eligible to participate in the study. An internet-hosted survey was administered in June of 2011. The survey consisted of 48 questions focusing on personal and professional demographics, postgraduate practice and experience, educational preparation, and factors affecting recruitment and retention decisions.
Results:  A total of 280 respondents completed the survey (response rate 52%). Of these, 95 (33.9%) reported having chosen rural or remote practice following graduation. Multiple factors predictive of recruitment and retention to rural/remote practice were identified. Of particular note was that individuals raised in a rural or remote community were 3.3 times more likely to work in a rural or remote community after graduation. Recruitment was strongly associated with length of time immersed in rural/remote education settings and to participation in the NSS academic semester. Job satisfaction, professional networking opportunities, and rural lifestyle options were identified as important factors for retention in rural/remote practice areas.
Conclusions:  The NSS and RS programs have experienced encouraging recruitment outcomes in the past 10 years. Recruitment and retention of rehabilitation therapists to rural/remote locations appears to be positively and significantly affected by the origins of the health professional. The completion of both academic and clinical education in a rural/remote setting and longer duration of rural/remote education were positively associated with an increased likelihood of choosing to practice in a rural/remote area following entry to practice. These findings have potential implications for admission criteria to rehabilitation education programs with a rural curriculum focus as well as implications for postgraduate mentorship programs and employers in rural/remote areas.

Key words: audiology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, recruitment, rehabilitation, retention, rural, speech–language pathology.

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