In November 2015, Narelle Campbell, Director of Clinical and Interprofessional Education, Flinders Northern Territory Medical program (NTMP), was awarded her PhD by the University of Queensland. Her supervisors were Associate Professor Diane Eley from the University of Queensland and Professor Lindy McAllister from the University of Sydney.
Narelle completed the PhD part-time, while working for Flinders NT full-time. She published three papers during her candidature which were included in the final thesis. Her examiners commended the thesis and recommended it for a Dean’s award.
Narelle’s research topic focussed on the remote health workforce. In particular, it sought to address health workforce shortages by considering how personality traits and motivation characteristics might influence recruitment and retention in remote areas. She undertook two studies, a quantitative investigation of the personality traits of 562 allied health professionals and a follow up study using repertory grid interviews with 34 allied health professionals.
The study found that allied health professionals overall had good job satisfaction. In general they cited job satisfaction coming from reasons such as ‘doing something meaningful for people’ and ‘seeing clients make positive changes in their lives”.
In terms of personality characteristics, allied health professionals higher in Novelty seeking and lower in Harm avoidance (adventurousness and anxiety) were more likely to be successfully recruited to remote areas.
Novelty seeking is a characteristic or trait that describes how much you like adventure and new experiences. High levels of novelty seeking enable a person to embrace change and newness. Novelty seeking is a trait that is helpful for recruitment- people who have high Novelty seeking levels are willing to ‘go bush’, but equally, once the adventure becomes the ‘everyday’ there is a need for a new adventure. So Novelty seeking is less helpful for longer term retention. One of the participants ‘Nicole’, an experienced and long term remote professional described it as: ‘I find that sort of lifestyle…not just professionally, but personally as well, fulfilling….if I wasn’t settled down and with family responsibilities, I probably would still be moving around, getting that kick!’.
Harm avoidance is a trait that describes a person’s sense of anxiety or ability to cope with the unknown. Lower levels of Harm avoidance suggest an ability to ‘go with the flow’; whereas higher levels indicate needs to understand, know, plan in advance and have certainty. Health professionals with remote experience had lower levels of Harm avoidance, they could face their day in remote work comfortable despite not knowing exactly what it would hold, which clients they might see, whether something unexpected might confront them, even whether they would be consulting with clients in a clinic, on a home visit or under a tree.
Ongoing retention of allied health professionals in remote areas was strongly influenced by factors such as access to professional support, a clear sense of the work contributions being valued, and being comfortable with the generalist skills required by remote work. Policy change addressing such factors could improve retention of the remote allied health workforce. For example, ensuring that appropriate professional support is consistently available and accessible; orientation, mentoring, cross cultural communication development are provided; ensuring roles and outcomes are clearly defined, and ensuring professionals have ongoing access to profession-specific and interprofessional up-skilling.