Nursing workforce in very remote Australia, characteristics and key issues


Sue Lenthall, Centre for Remote Health, Flinders University, PO Box 4066, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, 0871, Australia. Email:


Objective: To describe the nursing workforce in very remote Australia, characteristics and key issues.

Methods: Data were collected from four main sources: the refined CRANAplus database of remote health facilities; the 2006 census which provided population and percentage of Indigenous people in communities in very remote Australia; a national survey on occupational stress among nurses and an earlier study into violence and remote area nurses conducted in 1995. A descriptive analysis of the data was conducted.

Setting: Health facilities in very remote Australia.

Results: The registered nursing workforce in very remote Australia is mostly female (89%) and ageing, with 40.2% 50 years or over, compared to 33% nationally. Many (43%) are in remote Indigenous communities. Over the last decade, there has been a significant decrease in registered nurses with midwifery qualifications (55%) and in child health nurses (39%) in very remote Australia. Only 5% have postgraduate qualifications in remote health practice.

Conclusion: The nursing workforce in very remote areas of Australia is in trouble. The workforce is ageing, the numbers of nurses per population has fallen and the numbers of midwives and child health nurses have dropped significantly over the last 15 years. As many of these nurses work in Indigenous communities, if these trends continue it is likely to have a negative effect on ‘closing the gap’ in Indigenous health outcomes.