Academic journal article International Journal of Child Health and Human Development

Adding Value to Rural and Remote Health Education through Community Engagement

Academic journal article International Journal of Child Health and Human Development

Adding Value to Rural and Remote Health Education through Community Engagement

Article excerpt

Introduction

Positive experiences in rural or remote communities has been shown to strongly influence the willingness of early career health care professionals to practice in this context (1-5). Also, in terms of retaining this workforce it has been shown that issues such as professional support and ability to access further education and professional development opportunities significantly impact upon decisions regarding remaining in rural practice (6-10). The Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health (MICRRH) is an academic department located in the remote city of Mount Isa in north west Queensland (see table 1 for more information about this community).

The Centre is affiliated with James Cook University and forms part of a national workforce initiative which aims to address key issues impacting upon the recruitment and retention of health care professionals in rural and remote Australia.

Over time MICRRH has recognised the importance of ongoing community engagement in our education programs particularly in terms of providing a clinical context within which health discipline students can learn about rural, remote and Indigenous health. In the long term it is hoped that the students who have a positive experience in Mount Isa will return to rural or remote communities as graduates. However, the Centre also acknowledges the importance of providing a shorter term return on the investment of these communities.

In recognition of the need to continue to engage and support the communities involved in our programs, MICRRH has adopted an underlying philosophy of ?giving back' to the community. This approach allows us to focus not just on the clinical aspects of rural health education but also the equally important experience of living, working and socialising in the host town (11, 12). This feature of the Centre's programs has been important in ensuring that (i) students have a high quality learning experience and gain a knowledge of rural living while meeting the specific educational requirements of their course; (ii) health care organisations are willing to have ongoing involvement in our programs; and (iii) the education opportunities provided by these communities are sustainable.

At MICRRH effort has focussed on two key areas, namely: facilitation of an extensive placement program supporting all health care disciplines and involving several communities in the region; and the local delivery of education programs such as JCU's undergraduate nursing program and the delivery of a wide range of professional development and skill maintenance opportunities for existing health care professionals. In addition to these education activities there has also been ongoing investment in the establishment of local research and public health programs in collaboration with external organisations.

This paper explores the value of creating education programs and associated support structures based on the underlying principle of ?giving back' to the community. To inform this, key staff at MICRRH reflected on the operations and successes that enable the education programs of the Centre. This data was used to identify domains which contribute significantly to both the quality of the education experience provided and the ability of these programs to support broader health initiatives within the community thereby providing a more tangible short term benefit to the individuals and organisations involved.

Infrastructure

In order to support various activities, MICRRH has developed significant infrastructure resources within Mount Isa and the surrounding communities. In Mount Isa itself the Centre provides full-furnished accommodation for up to 45 individuals through a combination of a 20 bed student dormitory and a number of three bedroom houses and two bedroom units. Elsewhere in the region, long term agreements with the State Government health department (Queensland Health, QH) or other local organisations have resulted in additional accommodation being built in Cloncurry, Normanton, Longreach, Richmond and Boulia (see table 1 for more information regarding these communities). …

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