Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Preparing Students in Professional Programs for Rural Practice: A Case Study

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Preparing Students in Professional Programs for Rural Practice: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Introduction and Literature Review

Understanding the supports and constraints available in rural and remote communities is integral to the education of professionals who support those living in rural settings (Winters & Lee, 2010), since the concerns of professionals in rural areas are often different from urban-based professionals (Scharff, 2010; Shreffler-Grant & Reimer, 2010). It may, in fact, be reasonable to consider that learners in rural and remote communities have worldviews and cultures that are very different those of professionals choosing rural venues as practice settings (Martin, 2003; Durie, 1995). While programs that focus on recruitment to rural areas abound (c.f., Bettles, 2012; De Hoyos & Green, 2011), little attention is given to the particular skills required and experiences one may encounter when working in a rural area. Previous research has indicated that many professionals do not have an accurate understanding of how rural contexts and settings impact personal life and professional practice (Fisher & Fraser, 2010). Furthermore, misunderstandings about rural culture may have an adverse effect on retention of professionals, and lead to high degrees of turnover and predictable problems with continuity of professional care. It therefore seems appropriate that, in order to better equip its graduates, postsecondary professional programs address issues facing professionals who practise in rural areas. Such endeavours may ultimately lead to improved recruitment and retention of rural professionals.

Defining Rurality

Statistics Canada (2001, 2006), has defined "rural" as "the population living in towns and municipalities outside the commuting zone of larger urban centres i.e. outside the commuting zone of centres with [a] population of 10,000 or more"; however, limitations to such definitions are important to identify and explore. Because each rural and remote setting is defined by a unique set of geographical, cultural, and economic determinants, no two rural communities can be considered identical in nature. This uniqueness is important to identify.

Rural communities are also economically, geographically, and socially qualitatively different from urban communities; thus the natural and human supports and constraints that impact rural residents are different from those in urban areas (De Hoyos & Green, 2011; Flora & Flora, 2008). One might posit that rural environments may be seen as culturally different, and such differences may become markedly so in more remote areas in Canada, just as they are in other parts of the world. We believe these differences are significant educational learning points for students in a course focusing on rural com- munities. Flora and Flora (2008) assert that while rural communities may differ from one another, there may be other issues they have in common, such as persistent poverty due to lack of economic opportunities. Other issues such as , suburban sprawl in rural areas near cities, rapid growth encroaching on natural amenities (environmental issues are increasingly part of rural consciousness), and cultural dislocation when people in rural communities are displaced by urban sprawl, the introduction of new industry or the need to move to another location in search of employment, among others.

Developing infrastructure to mitigate these issues often requires creative thinking in order to capitalize on the often-limited human and physical resources that are available to those living and working in these small communities (Barter, 2008; Winters & Lee, 2010). Considering how professionals in rural areas can capitalise on the human and physical resources that are present in rural communities was a central tenet of this course.

Educating about "Rurality"

Considering that living and working in rural areas is qualitatively different from living in urban areas, it is important that professional programs introduce these differences to their students. …

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