Rural origin plus a rural clinical school placement is a significant predictor of medical students' intentions to practice rurally: a multi-university study.
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INTRODUCTION: Health workforce shortages are a major problem in rural areas. Australian medical schools have implemented a number of rural education and training interventions aimed at increasing medical graduates' willingness to work in rural areas. These initiatives include recruiting students from rural backgrounds, delivering training in rural areas, and providing all students with some rural exposure during their medical training. However there is little evidence regarding the impact of rural exposure versus rural origin on workforce outcomes. The aim of this study is to identify and assess factors affecting preference for future rural practice among medical students participating in the Australian Rural Clinical Schools (RCS) Program. METHODS: Questionnaires were distributed to 166 medical students who had completed their RCS term in 2006; 125 (75%) responded. Medical students were asked about their preferred location and specialty for future practice, their beliefs about rural work and life, and the impact of the RCS experience on their future rural training and practice preferences. RESULTS: Almost half the students (47%; n=58) self-reported a 'rural background'. Significantly, students from rural backgrounds were 10 times more likely to prefer to work in rural areas when compared with other students (p<0.001). For those preferring general practice, 80% (n=24) wished to do so rurally. Eighty-five per cent (n=105) of students agreed that their RCS experience increased their interest in rural training and practice with 62% (n=75) of students indicating a preference for rural internship/basic training after their RCS experience. A substantial percentage (86%; n=108) agreed they would consider rural practice after their RCS experience. CONCLUSIONS: This baseline study provides significant evidence to support rural medical recruitment and retention through education and training, with important insights into the factors affecting preference for future rural practice. By far the most significant predictor of rural practice intention is recruitment of students with a rural background who also undertake an RCS placement. This research also demonstrates significant demand for post-graduate rural training places, including specialty places, as RCS graduates become junior doctors and vocational trainees.
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