Review Article

Mapping the interprofessional education landscape for students on rural clinical placements: an integrative literature review


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Lorraine Walker1
MN Research Current PhD Candidate, Senior Lecturer Monash Unversity and PhD candidate University of Tasmania *

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Merylin Cross2
PhD, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Rural Health, School of Health Sciences

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Tony Barnett3
PhD, Director, Centre for Rural Health, School of Health Sciences


1 Monash University, Frankston, Victoria, Australia; and University of Tasmania, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

2, 3 University of Tasmania, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

ACCEPTED: 26 August 2017

early abstract:

Introduction: Interprofessional collaboration and effective teamwork are core to optimising rural health outcomes, however, little is known about the opportunities available for interprofessional education in rural clinical learning environments. This integrative literature review addresses this deficit by identifying, analysing and synthesising the research available about the nature of, and potential for interprofessional education provided to undergraduate students undertaking rural placements, the settings and disciplines involved and the outcomes achieved.
Methods: An integrative review method was adopted to capture the breadth of evidence available about interprofessional education in the rural context. This integrative review is based on a search of nine electronic databases: CINAHL, Cochrane Library, EMBASE, MEDLINE, ProQuest, PubMed, SCOPUS, Web of Science and Google Scholar. Search terms were adapted to suit those used by different disciplines and each database and included key words related to: interprofessional education, rural, undergraduate students and clinical placement. The inclusion criteria included primary research and reports of interprofessional education in rural settings, peer reviewed, and published in English between 2000 and mid-2016.
Results: This review integrates the results of 27 primary research studies undertaken in seven countries: Australia, Canada, United States of America, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa and Tanzania. Despite geographical, cultural and health system differences, all of the studies reviewed were concerned with developing collaborative, interprofessional practice-ready graduates and adopted a similar mix of research methods. Overall, the 27 studies involved more than 3,800 students (range 3 to 1360) from 36 disciplinary areas, including some not commonly associated with interprofessional education, such as theology. Interprofessional education was provided in a combination of university and rural placement settings including hospitals, community health services and other rural venues. The education activities most frequently utilised were seminars, tutorial discussion groups (n = 21, 84%), case presentations (n=11, 44%) and community projects (n=11, 44%) augmented by preliminary orientation and ongoing interaction with clinicians during placement. The studies reviewed demonstrate that rural clinical learning environments provide rich and varied interprofessional education opportunities for students that increase their interprofessional understanding, professional respect for other roles, and awareness of the collaborative and interprofessional nature of rural practice.
Conclusion: This review addresses the lack of attention given to understanding interprofessional education in the rural context, provides Australian and international evidence that initiatives are being offered to diverse student groups undertaking placements in rural settings and proposes a research agenda to develop a relevant framework to support rural interprofessional education. Rural clinical learning environments afford a rich resource whereby health professionals can conceptualise interprofessional education creatively and holistically to construct transformative learning experiences for students. This review develops a case for supporting the development, trialling, evaluation and translation of interprofessional education initiatives that harness the opportunities afforded by rural placements. Further research is required to examine the ways to optimise interprofessional education opportunities in the rural clinical context, including the potential for simulation-based activities, the challenges to achieving sustainable programs, and to evaluate the impact of interprofessional education on collaboration and health outcomes.