Building a sustainable rural workforce

Our researchers are co-partnering with communities to translate healthcare findings into practice.

Our research will help design a sustainable workforce to improve health outcomes in rural communities.

A sustainable nursing workforce

Research team:

Developing a sustainable rural nursing workforce is key to good rural health outcomes, but nursing recruitment and retention is a significant challenge. Internationally, there is a body of literature that describes undergraduate nursing student employment models. There are, however, fewer robust evaluations of these models as a workforce strategy.

This study evaluated an undergraduate nursing student employment model in a rural context. A mixed-method design was used with a well-established process evaluation framework. Data collection methods included monthly online surveys, blogs, focus groups, individual interviews and client experience surveys.

Patients/clients rated the model highly. For students, healthcare employment was perceived as more advantageous than other forms of employment, such as hospitality and retail. There were significant challenges balancing university commitments with service requirements, issues related to scope of the role, and concerns around ongoing funding of the model.

This study contributes to the knowledge on paid employment of nursing students, but future work must focus on longitudinal studies and robust economic modelling to identify costs and benefits.

This research was supported by Echuca Regional Health/the Department of Health and Human Services Victoria.

Read the final report and a publication from this study.

Research team:

  • Professor Amanda Kenny (VVMCRHR)
  • Dr Virginia Dickson-Swift (VVMCRHR)
  • Professor Lisa McKenna (La Trobe University)
  • Dr Martin Charette (La Trobe University)
  • Dr Kathy Rush (University of British Columbia, Canada)
  • Dr Gemma Stacey (Florence Nightingale Foundation, United Kingdom)
  • Dr Angela Darvill (University of Huddersfield, United Kingdom)
  • Dr Jacqueline Lee (University of Salford, United Kingdom)
  • Dr Rob Burton (Griffith University)
  • Dr Craig Phillips (University of South Australia)

This mixed-methods systematic review will document the interventions that facilitate graduate nurse transition from university to practice. It will identify outcomes from graduate nurse transition interventions for the individual nurse, patient or client, and health service.

This review will address a significant gap in the literature by documenting transition interventions and outcomes in a range of health settings. Interest in transition to practice continues to rise, but there is an urgent need to conduct well-designed, robust, and larger-scale studies at national and international levels.

Research team:

Rural and regional forensic consumers are challenged by having less control over their healthcare and limited access to services. It is, therefore, critical that healthcare staff are suitably equipped to deliver high quality services.

This study will establish the clinical practice competencies required of a forensic mental health nurse and develop a Forensic Mental Health Nurse Competency Assessment Tool (FMHN-CAT) that can be used to evaluate these competencies.

This evaluation tool may lead to greater understanding of the specific competencies required to practice as a specialist nurse and will be useful for the profession, services and individual nurses. It will assist in identifying areas of practice that need improvement, while also recognising exemplary practice.

A sustainable allied health and dental workforce

Research team:

Significant inequities exist in rural communities that, ultimately, create a gulf between metropolitan and rural health outcomes. These inequities are further compounded by an individual-focused healthcare system.

This project is developing strategies to address the metropolitan-rural health divide by shifting the focus from delivering healthcare to individuals, to partnering with communities. Using occupational therapy as a case study, researchers are examining how allied health professionals can employ a community-centred approach to improve health outcomes.

A systematic review of the literature has identified a body of scholarship to inform occupational therapy practise in a range of community settings, including primary care and schools. A practitioner survey will explore how occupational therapists are practising in the Australian context. Almost 100 occupational therapists have responded to date.

Research findings will inform health system transformation, enabling occupational therapists to partner with rural communities to address health inequities. Outcomes will include a World Federation of Occupational Therapists position statement, research publications, presentations at conferences, and presentations at rural and regional health services in Australia.

This research is supported by the Occupational Therapy Australia Research Foundation.

Research team:

This study explores how women’s unique needs are recognised and met by occupational therapists during perinatal transitions and matrescence. This is not a traditional practice area for occupational therapists.

Researchers are currently undertaking interviews with occupational therapists working with maternal clients in a range of generalist and specialist practice settings around the world, and consumers who have accessed these services.

Read blog updates on this study.

Research team:

The transition process from student to graduate in allied health is complex. Change in role, responsibilities and identity are challenging for the early career professional. There is some evidence to suggest that new graduates have expectations that are only partially or not currently being met.

In allied health there is a gap in the knowledge about what these challenges are and to what extent they occur in the rural context. This systematic review on transition in allied health will provide greater understanding of the support required during the transition phase to guide new graduates. This knowledge will help to retain allied health professionals in the workforce, particularly in rural and regional areas.


This online tool is designed to provide speech pathologists with professional development to enable them to provide support services for trans and gender diverse people.

This area of expertise is insufficiently covered in Australian speech pathology curriculum and services tend to be nearly exclusively available in metropolitan centres. The tool is particularly designed to provide speech pathologists working in regional and remote settings of Australia with support to develop the skills they need to work with this under-served population.

Research team:

A well prepared and sustainable allied health workforce is critical to improving health outcomes in rural communities. This study explores how clinical supervision can support allied health professionals in a regional health service.

This is a longitudinal study involving allied health managers as part of an action research reference group. Supervisee perceptions of formal clinical supervision were obtained when a clinical supervision framework and education was introduced, with a follow-up three years later to determine changes over time.

Clinical supervision frameworks available for allied health have also been critiqued. A group supervision program for allied health professionals in a regional health service has been piloted, and data has been collected on its effectiveness.

Research team:

The project identified how to embed First Nations health curriculum into occupational therapy and social work courses in ways that promote cultural safety. It trialled an action research process, reviewing literature and creating tools and resources that can be used to enhance First Nations curriculum development in allied health. La Trobe University’s occupational therapy and social work curricula was mapped to identify First Nations content. Recommendations for further improvements have been provided to assist with future curriculum planning.

Research team:

Dry mouth is a debilitating condition affecting quality of life.

This study will enhance the capacity of pharmacists to manage, support and assist clients affected by dry mouth. The team is co-producing and testing educational material that will enable pharmacists to discuss dry mouth and its management with consumers. The team is also developing a range of resources for consumers aimed at educating them about dry mouth and management of this condition. This health promotion approach will be trialled and evaluated in five metropolitan and five rural community pharmacies.

This research is supported by the Alliance for a Cavity Free Future.

Research team:

This project investigates the preparedness of undergraduate dental and oral health students to undertake health promotion in Australia. It will explore the health promotion content in dental and oral health courses; dental/oral health educator’s knowledge and skills in health promotion, and their preparedness to translate this into learning and teaching; and graduate perceptions on how prepared they feel to undertake health promotion in practice.

A sustainable interprofessional and community workforce

Research team:

  • Dr Evelien Spelten (VVMCRHR)
  • Professor Peter O’Meara (Monash University)
  • Professor Gina Agarwal (McMaster University, Canada)
  • Professor Leigh Kinsman (University of Newcastle)
  • Professor Richard Gray (La Trobe University)
  • Associate Professor Anthony McGillion (La Trobe University/Royal Melbourne Hospital)
  • Associate Professor Penny Buijx (University of Newcastle)
  • Dr Damhnatt McCann (University of Tasmania)
  • Brodie Thomas (VVMCRHR PhD candidate)
  • Julia van Vuuren (La Trobe University)
  • Alycia Jacob (University of Newcastle)
  • Rebecca Schultz (Alice Springs Hospital)

Is violence at work becoming the new normal? Incidences of violence against healthcare workers only seem to increase. A recent Cochrane Review confirmed that there is no evidence that any intervention works to reduce violence.

Focus has been on teaching healthcare workers how to de-escalate or encouraging them to report. This study shifts the focus to the perpetrator. Research is being undertaken in rural Australia, rural Canada and the Royal Melbourne Hospital to understand who is perpetrating the violence, and why.

This research is supported by La Trobe University’s Building Healthy Communities Research Focus Area, the La Trobe Overseas Study Program and the University of Newcastle.

Read an opinion piece on this study.

Research team:

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is increasingly recognised as a priority health concern for Australia, as reflected in the National FASD Strategic Plan (2018-2028), however many professionals across health, social service, justice and education sectors have a limited understanding of the condition. For rural and regional professionals, accessing professional development about FASD can be complicated by distance and access to specialist expertise.

This research aims to identify what online training about FASD is available to better prepare rural health professionals for working with people with FASD in rural communities and what current gaps in online FASD professional education exist.

Research team:

The Neighbourhood Houses Clever Communities project will provide Neighbourhood House Coordinators with a structured process to enable volunteers and staff to undertake the development, implementation and evaluation of innovative rural health and wellbeing projects across Victoria.

This project supports the La Trobe Rural Health School’s undergraduate ‘Rural Community Engagement’ subject, preparing students for rural health practice by engaging them in community-based projects.

Research team:

This study explores how project-based learning is used in higher education, across disciplines. Researchers will use a mixed-method design, an online survey for educators and graduates, and a systematic scoping review to identify the uses and implementations of project-based methods in the literature.

Research team:

  • Associate Professor Anna Wong Shee (Deakin University)
  • Associate Professor Carol McKinstry (VVMCRHR)
  • Professor Darryl Maybery (Monash University)
  • Dr Claire Quilliam (University of Melbourne)
  • Dr Kristen Glenister (University of Melbourne)
  • Dr Alison Beauchamp (Monash University)
  • Associate Professor Kevin McNamara (Deakin University)
  • Dr Laura Alston (Deakin University)
  • Denise Corboy (Federation University)

This project brings together academics from Victorian University Departments of Rural Health to work on a project for the Western Alliance. It explores the research needs of rural and regional health services, and what training is needed to build capacity for rural health professionals to undertake research.

Managers in Victorian rural and regional health services have been interviewed on their perception of the research needs of their organisations and a statewide survey is planned.

This research is supported by the Western Alliance.