Walker, SM, Blattner, K, Nixon, G, Koroheke Rogers, M, Kennedy, E. What does it mean to be an allied health professional working in rural Aotearoa New Zealand? A qualitative study. Aust J Rural Health. 2023; 00: 1–14.
Great to feature home grown allied health research on this blog, as our medical colleagues usually predominant in this rural space! Sarah’s paper, part of her PhD, resonated loudly with me as a physiotherapist who has worked in both urban and rural practice. This research is the building block for growing the rural allied health workforce and it’s fantastic to have someone with Sarah’s passion to champion the cause of allied rural health professions in Aotearoa NZ. I look forward to seeing where this leads. (Lynne Clay)
Objective: Building health services and workforce that are both well supported and fit for purpose is a key consideration for improving health outcomes in rural populations. Achieving this requires an understanding of the roles and practice characteristic of each professional group, including allied health professionals. This study explores what it means to be an allied health professional practicing in rural Aotearoa New Zealand.
Design: A qualitative study design was used, involving individual semi-structured interviews with 13 rural allied health professionals in the Otago and Northland regions. The interviews explored participants journey into rural practice, their experiences working rurally, and their views on rural practice.
Findings: Four main themes were derived: Identity; Connectedness; Expectations; and Providing Care.
Discussion: Proud of being rural, these allied health professionals are immersed within their community, intertwining their professional and personal identities. The unique nature of this dual identity while empowering for some, can also isolate rural allied health professionals from their professional bodies and urban peers. This leads to a sense of vulnerability and feeling undervalued and invisible. In response, rural allied health professionals choose to form strong connections to their local interprofessional team and their community. The connections they forge, and the breadth of their skills cumulate to enable allied health professionals to provide dynamic and responsive health services for their rural communities.
Conclusion: This study provides the first insight into experiences and perspectives of allied health professionals within rural Aotearoa New Zealand. Despite the challenges, a sense of pride is associated with practicing rurally for allied health professionals.