Introduction: There is now strong evidence to support the positive impact of place-based medical education on the recruitment and retention of the rural health workforce in Australia. Much of this work, however, has been undertaken in the context of ‘extended rural clinical placement’, that is students undertaking part of their medical degree in a rural location. Until recently, there were only a few places in Australia in which students could undertake the entirety of their medical degree in a rural area. With the introduction of the Murray–Darling Medical Schools Network (MDMSN) initiative, this dynamic is changing. The MDMSN is part of the Stronger Rural Health Strategy and builds on the Government’s existing Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training Program to establish a network of rurally-based medical programs in the Murray–Darling Region. The MDMSN offers a unique opportunity to explore the effect of complete rural immersion during medical school on subsequent rural practice. This paper describes the establishment of a research collaboration intended to ensure the harmonisation of research data collection from the outset of the MDMSN program.
Methods: The MDMSN research collaboration is a longitudinal, multi-university program of work to explore the effect of rurally-based medical school programs in the Murray–Darling region. Initially it has been agreed that administrative student data will be collected from existing university datasets to help characterise this novel student cohort. Each university will then distribute an ‘Entry survey’ to all first-year MDMSN students. The survey will collect demographic information as well as information regarding rural background, preferences, and future practice intention. Questions have been aligned with and adapted from the Medical Schools Outcomes Database survey, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and from the literature. This information will be combined with graduate information from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.
Results: The MDMSN research collaboration will work toward the co-design of research projects, to facilitate and progress multi-site research addressing nationally relevant research questions. Early research efforts are focused on our ability to better understand the new cohort of students embarking on rurally-based medical education, their practice intentions and realisation. Subsequent work of the collaboration may lead to deeper understanding of the rural student experience, any effect of ‘place’, changes in student professional identity over time, and their relationship to subsequent rural practice.
Conclusion: The MDMSN research collaboration is a proactive initiative that brings together data and experience from five new, rurally-based medical programs and answers calls for multi-institution and longitudinal studies. It is uniquely placed to capture the impact of the MDMSN program including the effect of complete rural immersion on the future practice location of these graduates. Ultimately, the combined research efforts of the MDMSN research collaboration will add knowledge to address the known rural workforce maldistribution, particularly how to attract and retain medical workforce.
Keywords: health workforce, longitudinal study, medical education, medical students, medical graduates, rural, rural pipeline.