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Survey of the rural allied health workforce in New South Wales to inform recruitment and retention


Ms Sheila Keane, Northern Rivers University Department of Rural Health, PO Box 3074, Lismore, New South Wales, 2480, Australia. Email:


Objective: To investigate the demographics, employment, education and factors affecting recruitment and retention of New South Wales (NSW) rural allied health professionals.

Design: Descriptive study, cross-sectional survey.

Setting: Regional, rural and remote areas of NSW, Australia.

Participants: The sample includes 1879 respondents from more than 21 different allied health occupations.

Main outcomes measures: Variables included gender, age, marital status, employment sector, hours worked, community size, highest qualification, rural origin and continuing education, as well as others. Certain variables were compared for profession and gender.

Results: Women made up 70% of respondents, with a mean age of 42 years. Men were older, with more experience. Sixty per cent were of rural origin and 74% partnered, most with their partner also working. Eighty-four per cent worked in centres of 10 000 or more people. The public sector accounted for 46% of positions and the private sector 40%. Eleven per cent worked across multiple sectors and 18% were self-employed. Two-thirds worked 35 hours or more per week, although only 49% were employed full-time. Job satisfaction was high but 56% intended leaving within 10 years, 28% to retire. Over 90% of respondents qualified in Australia and more than 80% held a degree or higher qualification. Almost half were dissatisfied with access to continuing education.

Conclusions: The NSW rural allied health workforce is strongly feminised, mature and experienced. Recruitment should target rural high school students and promote positive aspects of rural practice, such as diversity and autonomy. Retention strategies should include flexible employment options and career development opportunities.