Introduction: Chronic medical workforce shortage and maldistribution continues to be a significant challenge in rural Australia. The Rural Clinical Schools (RCSs) program helps to alleviate this problem with evidence of increased rural location in graduates of rural training programs. However, rural work intent may change during the years after completing a rural placement. This qualitative study investigated the factors involved in the change of career intention from rural to urban work location among the Australian National University Medical School (ANUMS) Rural Stream (RS) alumni.
Methods: A convenience sampling method was utilised to recruit ANUMS RS 2006-2016 graduates who expressed that their work plans had changed. Data collected with the use of in-depth semi-structured interviews were transcribed verbatim. Transcripts were interpreted using thematic analysis and a modified version of I-poems, a component of Voice-Centred Relational Method or the Listening Guide.
Results: Thematic analysis produced three main themes. 1) Impacts of the working environment highlighted some participants’ views that career progression and sustenance, high-quality training and agreeable working conditions could not be achieved rurally. 2) Ramifications of isolation described the experienced or predicted feelings of social and professional isolation. 3) Familial considerations explained how the wishes and requirements of partners and families strongly influenced the participants’ future work decisions. These findings were supplemented by the ‘committed voice’ and ‘voice of uncertainty’, heard through the use of I-poems. The ‘committed voice’ communicated the participants’ dedication to their careers and partners. The ‘voice of uncertainty’ expressed confusion of intentions as participants attempted to balance the bidimensional needs of the ‘committed voice’.
Conclusions: The complex interaction between the availability of high-quality training positions, support issues and work-life balance is associated with the change of rural work intention of RCS graduates. Career and partner/family commitments are significant factors. Meanwhile, uncertainty towards future work location provides the opportunity for carefully developed and appropriate rural workforce strategies to intervene.