• community service;
  • complementary and community therapist;
  • rural primary care;
  • rural service configuration;
  • rural workforce


Objective: Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use is high in rural health and an agenda for research in the geography of CAM has been outlined. Unfortunately, no studies to date have mapped the geographic distribution of CAM practitioners in rural areas. For the first time we investigate CAM practitioner distributions across a large district/region in rural Australia.

Setting and design: A CAM infrastructure audit of practitioners was performed in rural Divisions of General Practice in New South Wales, Australia.

Results: CAM providers form a significant part of the health care system in rural New South Wales with substantial representation across all degrees of rurality and in both under-serviced and well-serviced areas. CAM practitioners outnumbered GPs in four NSW Divisions of General Practice and in no Division numbered less than half of the total number of GPs.

Conclusions: Given the challenges of access to and recruitment and retention of conventional health care providers in rural settings and the significant presence of CAM practitioners, it is possible to consider such practitioners as an untapped resource in rural health care delivery. Assuming appropriate regulatory and quality standards are in place this resource should attract careful attention as part of future rural health policy and planning. The significant presence and high prevalence of use of CAM practitioners should also serve as an impetus to reform CAM service delivery in Australia.