Monash-led study gives valuable insights into getting more paramedics into regional and rural Australia

An Australia-first study looking into factors impacting on paramedics choosing to locate themselves in regional and rural areas for work has significant potential to address the ongoing shortage of rural ambulance officers nationally.

Despite a national shortage of paramedics in rural and regional Australia, there have been no studies outlining the personal and professional factors influencing rural practice in this profession, until now.

In a paper, published in the Australian Journal of Rural Health, the demographic and employment characteristics of first-year paramedicine graduates from Monash University are described. Importantly, the Monash Rural Health study, led by Nicola Ivec, an honours student completing the last year of her medical degree, looked at factors that influence where paramedic students aimed to live and work after finishing their degree.

The study used Monash University data from the Nursing and Allied Health Graduate Outcome Tracking (NAHGOT) study. The largest Australian study of its kind, NAHGOT tracks nursing and allied health graduates from six universities (Monash, Deakin, Newcastle, Queensland, Southern Queensland, and South Australia), to better understand what influences graduates to study and then practice in rural and regional areas.

NAHGOT links routinely collected university student data, with student and graduate survey data, and practice location data from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra). NAHGOT aims to follow the first decade of a graduates’ career and location of practice, to understand whether this is influenced by factors such as coming from a rural background or personal/work-related reasons.

This paramedic study found that nearly two-thirds of 2018 paramedicine course graduates responded to the survey, of whom nearly all (over 91 per cent) were registered as paramedics and a little over a fifth came from a rural background. Importantly, almost 20 per cent of the new graduates were working in rural settings.

The most reported reasons for choice of work location included the opportunity to advance their career (50 per cent), consideration of their spouse/partner’s employment and/or career (44 per cent), and the scope of practice provided by their current (31 per cent).

According to Ms Ivec, the study is one of the first to provide insights into what influences paramedic students to envisage a career in regional Australia.

“Analysing data like this allow us to better understand reasons behind early career paramedics’ choice of practice location,” she said.

“And this, in turn, allows us to use this information to encourage paramedics to locate in regional and rural Australia, where they are sorely needed.”

Studies like the NAHGOT survey are important because they outline the influence of various factors for graduate work location. For instance, a study using data on principal place of practice from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, led by Dr Keith Sutton, from Monash Rural Health, found that nurses and allied health workers who were originally from a rural or regional area were 4.45 times more likely than urban graduates to practice in a rural area.

According to Dr Sutton, the findings provide important evidence for what many have long thought: “The more time a student – whether in medicine, nursing or allied health – spends in a rural setting the more likely they will remain once they graduate”.

“There is a clear imperative for universities to ensure that the rural allied health and nursing shortage is addressed through appropriate student selection and training, with sufficient rural placement for a student to get a feel, and a love, for working in regional areas,” Dr Sutton said.

“And this latest study on paramedic students also indicates there are reasons that paramedicine graduates choose to stay in regional areas, and these must be leveraged to ensure we have an adequate paramedicine workforce in regional Australia.”