People living in rural areas have poorer health than their urban counterparts with higher morbidity and mortality rates and lower life expectancy. Challenges attracting health professionals to work in rural locations in Australia and elsewhere have been well- documented. In response, the idea of a rural pipeline emerged in the medical literature as a career pathway for doctors, conceptualised as a career continuum starting at school and ending in a committed, appropriately trained and supported rural doctor. This article draws on the literature to consider how the concept of a rural pipeline can be used to enhance recruitment and retention of allied health professionals (AHPs) in Australia. The complexity of the issue is taken into account, acknowledging the diverse professional, organisational and social needs within and between AHPs and their different career pathways. With this in mind, the rural pipeline is adapted and extended to focus on AHPs who enter at any stage of their career to work in rural areas.
Barriers to recruitment and retention require multifaceted strategies to encourage and support AHPs at various stages along the pipeline to enter, and remain in, rural practice. Findings from the literature identify discrete themes within and between AHPs about factors influencing their rural recruitment and retention choices and include career stage at entry to rural practice, age, gender, social context, professional support, organisational environment and public-private practice mix in service delivery. These findings underscored the development of an extended rural pipeline adapted to specifically target AHPs. This flexible framework of entry to rural practice can be applied at any stage of their career and includes suggestions of strategies to support retention.
Evidence from studies of rural AHPs suggests a flexible approach to recruitment and retention is needed that takes into account the complexity of the issue. The extended rural pipeline adapted to AHPs avoids a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, it offers a more nuanced approach that addresses the diversity within and between professions and reflects the different stages at which AHPs enter rural practice that can inform recruitment and retention strategies that better meet their needs.