Investment needed to foster health students from rural backgrounds, advocacy group says

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More investment is needed to encourage rural residents to pursue healthcare careers, an advocacy group says, to help meet the growing demand for services across the country.

The CEO of Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health (SARRAH), Cath Maloney, said the majority of allied health workers providing services in regional areas were born and raised there.

“The evidence tells us that if you come from a rural background to begin with, you are much more likely to want to come and work in rural and remote Australia,” she said.

“But there are no plans to encourage people in rural areas to study health care.”

Speech therapists can help children develop their communication skills.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

Growing up in the Mallee region of South Australia, Jasmin Przibilla was not even aware of the career path she would eventually take.

It wasn’t until she moved to Adelaide and started a Bachelor of Psychological Science that she learned about speech pathology and what it had to offer.

“I did some research on it and thought, ‘This is something that will benefit my community and the wider community,'” Ms Przibilla said.

She now takes her skills home to support her local region, demonstrating an interest in her services in the wider Mallee region.

A sign reading Pinaroo, the center of the Mallee.
Mrs. Przibilla grew up in Pinnaroo and wants to take her skills home with her.(ABC Riverland: Sam Bradbrook)

“Growing up in Pinnaroo, I know firsthand how difficult it is to get health services, so it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do, give back in any way,” said Ms Przibilla.

“Especially in the southern Mallee, where we’ve struggled to get doctors on time…providing that extra level of health care would really benefit the community, I think.”

Need more investment

Ms Maloney said demand for speech pathologists and other allied health professions was on the rise.

She said that while there was government support to help improve access to these services in regional and rural Australia, more money was needed to bridge the gap.

Ms Maloney said SARRAH was trialling a new model to train allied health assistants that could facilitate the ongoing care plans of practitioners in various fields, such as speech pathologists.

A close-up of fidgeting hands.  In the background, a psychologist is watching and taking notes.
Psychologists are among the allied health professionals increasingly in demand in regional areas.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

The process will help reduce the workload on trained practitioners and allow more face-to-face engagement for clients.

“We are talking about 30 pilot sites across the country, when what we need to address the significant staff shortage… is to really scale up these projects to run them more broadly across regional Australia,” Ms Maloney said.

“The work we are doing is just a drop in the ocean.

“Much more investment is needed to get the people with the right skills to deliver services to rural and remote Australia.”

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