Systematic review of effective retention incentives for health workers in rural and remote areas: towards evidence-based policy

Aust J Rural Health. 2010 Jun;18(3):102-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1584.2010.01139.x.


Background: Poor retention of health workers is a significant problem in rural and remote areas, with negative consequences for both health services and patient care.

Objective: This review aimed to synthesise the available evidence regarding the effectiveness of retention strategies for health workers in rural and remote areas, with a focus on those studies relevant to Australia.

Design: A systematic review method was adopted. Six program evaluation articles, eight review articles and one grey literature report were identified that met study inclusion/exclusion criteria.

Results: While a wide range of retention strategies have been introduced in various settings to reduce unnecessary staff turnover and increase length of stay, few have been rigorously evaluated. Little evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of any specific strategy is currently available, with the possible exception of health worker obligation. Multiple factors influence length of employment, indicating that a flexible, multifaceted response to improving workforce retention is required.

Conclusions: This paper proposes a comprehensive rural and remote health workforce retention framework to address factors known to contribute to avoidable turnover. The six components of the framework relate to staffing, infrastructure, remuneration, workplace organisation, professional environment, and social, family and community support. In order to ensure their effectiveness, retention strategies should be rigorously evaluated using appropriate pre- and post-intervention comparisons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Employee Incentive Plans / economics
  • Employee Incentive Plans / organization & administration*
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Medically Underserved Area*
  • Personnel Selection / methods
  • Personnel Selection / organization & administration*
  • Personnel Turnover
  • Rural Health Services*
  • Workforce