Background: Supporting the provision of clinical placement (CP) experiences in rural areas is a strategy used worldwide to promote the rural health workforce. While there is international evidence for this intervention in medicine, there is limited understanding of the influence of rural CP for nursing, midwifery, allied health, and dentistry health professions in Australia, which have received substantial federal investment. This review examined the relationship between rural CP and non-medicine health students' future rural practice intentions and workforce outcomes.
Methods: Four databases were systematically searched; papers were screened using defined criteria and appraised using the mixed-methods appraisal tool (MMAT). Findings were synthesized using a critical narrative approach.
Results: The methodological quality of the 29 eligible studies (13 quantitative non-randomized, 10 mixed method, 4 qualitative, 2 quantitative description) was appraised. Ten high-quality studies were identified. The review found that positive CP experiences may influence intention to practice rurally amongst undecided students and serve as a reinforcing experience for those students already interested in rural practice. There were mixed findings regarding the influence of CP length. The review also found that there is currently only evidence for the short-term effects of CP on students' future practice outcomes in rural areas with focus thus far on early practice outcomes.
Conclusions: Those looking to use rural CP to promote the rural health workforce should focus on supporting the quality of a large number of CP experiences that are undertaken in rural areas, as there are currently differing findings on the role of rural CP length. Future studies of rural CP should consider greater use of social and educational theories to guide them.
Keywords: clinical placements; health education; higher education policy; rural training.