Experiences of Nursing and Allied Health Students Undertaking a Rural Placement – Barriers and Enablers to Satisfaction and Wellbeing
Australia’s rural health services commonly face serious and protracted workforce shortages. To help address such shortages in rural and remote areas, a range of programs exist to support university students to undertake placements in a rural setting. In particular, University Departments of Rural Health (UDRH’s) are funded to support nursing and allied health students to undertake a rural placement. As UDRH’s encourage students to ‘go rural’ and as they coordinate and facilitate placements in rural settings, a range of enablers and barriers emerge. This study investigates the lived experiences of nursing and allied health students on placement in public health services in rural and regional Victoria. Its purpose was to identify the enablers and barriers most strongly affecting placement satisfaction and personal wellbeing. The intended outcome was to identify modifiable factors that could potentially improve the rural placement experience.
Eighteen students were interviewed by a student undertaking her placement. Interviews were 45-60 minutes in length and all face-to-face. The 18 participants were from five universities and were undertaking their placement at one of seven public hospitals operating in northeast Victoria. The researcher recruited participants by attending scheduled debrief meetings at their placement organisation, briefly discussing the research and inviting students to participate. Data were analysed using a thematic analysis approach.
The study found that most participants were positive and enthusiastic about their rural placement, both professionally and personally. Three key enablers were identified: 1) enjoyment of the rural environment and community; 2) working in a positive, friendly and supportive workplace; and 3) exposure to broad practice and enhanced learning opportunities. Simultaneously many had also experienced significant barriers before, during or as a consequence of undertaking their placement, and these negatively affected placement satisfaction and personal wellbeing. Identified barriers were: 1) increased financial stress; 2) travel and accommodation challenges and concerns; 3) study-work-life balance and isolation issues; 4) encountering stressful work situations and/or personal events while on placement; and 5) communication issues with universities.
The findings are strongly consistent with those identified in the extant literature. The findings add to previous research by deepening understanding about the financial burden and barriers experienced by nursing and allied health students as a result of undertaking rural placements. Disruption to students’ lives socially, psychologically, financially and in terms of employment were significant.
The study identified some important aspects of the placement experience, suggesting that nursing and allied health students can be dissatisfied with increased financial stress, isolation and inflexibility from universities.
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