Rural and remote Australian communities can experience multiple and simultaneous allied heath disadvantages and service inequities. Engaging communities in the identification of their allied health needs and solutions to address these needs, and associated workforce shortages, is critical in enhancing service accessibility and acceptability. New approaches that centrally locate communities in allied health service and workforce design are required however these voices can be marginalised in their own health care agendas.
Findings from a qualitative study that explored the impact and outcomes of participation in a rural community-campus partnership and associated allied health service-learning program that sought to address allied health service inequities in far west NSW have been drawn on in the identification of nine key features for enhanced community engagement in service and workforce design.
The nine features of engagement are: 1) responding to community need, 2) acquiring a sense of rural place, 3) provision of services of value, 4) community innovation, 5) community leadership, 6) reputation and trust, 7) continuity and continuums, 8) multi-directional knowledge transference, translation and generation, 9) and adaptability.
A failure by health and higher education systems to address these features contributes to mal-aligned services to community needs, practice to contexts, and lack of service accessibility and acceptability. These engagement features need to be addressed if we are to enhance systems’ capacity to engage with rural and remote communities, support the active collaboration of communities in allied health service and workforce design, and ultimately improve rural and remote health outcomes.
Debra Jones is a registered nurse by background with extensive experience in rural and remote Australian health care. Debra has held senior management positions in both state health organisations and higher education institutions. Debra has been involved in a number of rural and remote health service and workforce innovations that have sought to align health service to community identified needs and develop health professionals to provide services in these contexts. Debra holds a Master of Indigenous Health (with Distinction) and is currently undertaking a PhD.