Background: Allied health professionals play a critical role in enhancing health outcomes in primary and tertiary settings. Issues affecting the recruitment and retention of allied health workers in rural and remote areas are multifactorial. Access to relevant and effective continuing professional development is argued to be a recruitment and retention strategy for health professionals in non-metropolitan areas, however trial of the effectiveness of professional development programs and identification of enablers and barriers to participation is needed. The Allied Health Rural and Remote Training and Support (AHRRTS) program aimed to provide an integrated program of education and professional support activities for allied health professionals working within Queensland Health in rural and remote locations. The aim of this study was to explore enablers and barriers to access to, and effective participation in, the AHRRTS program from various allied heath stakeholders' perspectives.
Methods: A qualitative descriptive study utilising semi-structured interviews with various allied heath stakeholders was undertaken. The interview questions focussed on a number of issues pertinent to AHRRTS program, with specific probing questions regarding barriers and enablers to participation in the AHRRTS program. The interviews were then transcribed verbatim and analysed using thematic analysis.
Results: Using purposive sampling, a total of 55 stakeholders were interviewed for this study. Time, organisational factors and travel were identified as common barriers and organisational factors, travel and presentation modes were identified as common enablers. Interestingly, some of these factors act as barriers and/or enablers highlighting that these are essentially two sides of the same coin. The findings suggest that while it is important to have policies and procedures for ongoing support of allied health professionals, it should be complemented by enabling strategies to address persistent barriers.
Conclusion: The study suggests that while a program such as AHRRTS is accessible and facilitates participation in a number of ways, significant barriers to participation continue to persist at the coal face. Addressing these barriers will require a targeted, multifaceted approach. Lessons from this study provide unique insights into factors which influence the successful implementation and sustainability of recruitment and retention initiatives for rural and remote allied health workers.