Original Research

Building the capacity of rural allied health generalists through online postgraduate education: a qualitative evaluation


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Helena Harrison
1 PhD, Senior Lecturer * ORCID logo

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Claire Palermo
2 PhD, Director ORCID logo

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Susan G Devine
3 DrPH, Academic Head, Public Health and Tropical Medicine ORCID logo

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Jennifer Chamberlain-Salaun
4 PhD, Adjunct Researcher

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Robyn Nash
5 PhD, Associate Director ORCID logo

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Ruth N Barker
6 PhD, Associate Professor, Rehabilitation ORCID logo


1, 4, 6 College of Healthcare Sciences, Division of Tropical Health and Medicine, James Cook University, Cairns, Qld 4878, Australia

2 Monash Centre for Scholarship in Health Education, Nursing and Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Monash University, Clayton, Vic. 3168, Australia

3 College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Science, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4814, Australia

5 QUT College, Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove, Qld 4059, Australia

ACCEPTED: 5 April 2023

early abstract:

Introduction: Workforce development is a key strategy for building the capacity and capability of a workforce. Accordingly, rural and remote practicing allied health professionals require relevant and accessible continuing professional development to enhance their knowledge and skills and improve consumer health outcomes. This study explored the impact of an online post-graduate allied health rural generalist education program, from the perspective of allied health professionals participating in the program and their supervisors and managers.
Methods: A qualitative, exploratory descriptive study design was employed using semi-structured interviews. This study formed the qualitative component of a larger convergent mixed methods evaluation study aimed at evaluating the reach, quality and impact of an online rural generalist education program for allied health professionals in Australia. Allied health professionals from seven professions enrolled in an online post graduate rural generalist education program, the rural generalist program (RGP), their designated work-based supervisors, and their managers who were responsible for the operational management of the study sites, were invited to participate in the study.  All participants were employed in rural and remote health services in ten sites across four Australian states. Study participants’ experience and perception of the impact of the RGP on themselves, the health care service and the broader community were explored using semi-structured interviews. Data were thematically analysed site by site, then across sites using Braun and Clarke’s (2012) systematic six phase approach. Provisional codes were generated and iteratively compared, contrasted, and collapsed into secondary, more advanced codes until final themes and subthemes were developed.
Results: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 23 allied health professionals enrolled in the RGP and their 27 work-based supervisors and managers across the ten study sites. Three final themes were identified that describe the impact of the RGP: Building capability as rural generalist allied health professionals; Recruiting and building a rural workforce; Enhancing healthcare services and consumer outcomes.
Conclusion: Allied health professionals working in rural and remote locations valued the RGP because it provided accessible post graduate education that aligned with their professional and clinical needs. Integrated into a supportive, well-structured development pathway, the experience potentiated learning and facilitated safe clinical practice that met the needs of consumers and organisations. The findings demonstrate that effective work integrated learning strategies can enhance the development of essential capabilities for rural practice and support early career allied health professionals’ transition to rural and remote practice. These experiences can engage allied health professionals in a way that engenders a desire to remain working in rural and remote contexts.