“Working in a bubble”: the experiences and meaning of professional isolation from the perspective of health professionals working in rural and remote Western Australia.

Ms Jodi Smith1, Professor  Sonya Girdler1, Doctor Petra Wagman1

1Curtin University, Bentley, Australia

Abstract:

Objective:To understand the experience and meaning of professional isolation (PI) from the perspective of health professionals working in rural and remote Western Australia.

Design: A qualitative, grounded theory approach was used. Semi‐structured interviews were completed with 32 theoretically selected health professionals. Data were analysed using a constant comparative method to provide detailed descriptions of the experience of PI.

Results:Three core themes emerged from the data. The first theme “Professional isolation means working in a bubble” described the feeling of working alone without outside influence or connection. The second core theme was “it could be worse if you were way out Woopwoop” describing the variations in opinions on if geographical isolation was directly linked to PI. The third core theme was “I choose not to feel professional isolation”, described how some participants recognised the need to avoid PI and had put strategies in place to counteract it. Participants saw PI as leading to negative outcomes for the client, the health professional and the community. Whilst participants universally viewed PI as negative, some participants acknowledged that there could be positive gains including personal and professional creativity, learning new skills and networking opportunities.

Conclusions:Participants were interviewed described diverse, complex situations and clinical issues that led to them feeling PI. Health professionals viewed PI as involving multiple features, being potentially present in all workplaces and leading to poor work performance stress and burnout. Participants also described PI as something they felt they could manage with experience, knowledge and networks.


Biography:

Jodi Smith is an Occupational Therapist of far too many years experience, with decades of this experience working in rural and remote settings in WA, SA and NT. Jodi is currently studying for a PhD and this research is part of a larger study looking at defining the term professional isolation.