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Addressing rural health workforce challenges

An international expert in attracting and retaining healthcare workers in rural areas is working with locals to address the issue here.

About 50 people from across the region attended a recent meeting in Masterton at which Dr Cath Cosgrave shared her research findings, and discussed how her work could apply to local workforce development.

Australian-based Cosgrave, the founder and developer of the ‘Attract, Connect, Stay’ framework, has conducted groundbreaking research into managing workforce shortages in rural areas. She has a background as a social scientist and is an adjunct research fellow at the Queensland University of Technology.

Cosgrave leads the Attract Connect Stay team in pioneering work on workforce challenges and helping develop rural communities.

She spoke exclusively to The Times-Age about her work, which applies mainly to OECD countries.

“A number of the researchers I’m working with are specialist skilled academics in strengthening the rural health workforce. There’s only a handful of us,” she said.

“There are rural health workforce shortages the world over. Everybody has the same problems. Ten years ago, it was predominantly a retention problem, but I would say in the past three or four years it’s as much an attraction problem.”

Cosgrave said similar problems are beginning to appear in metro areas as older professionals retire.

“Very rarely do I talk to a health professional who says it’s money motivating their choices about attraction, and where they choose to work and live.”

Cosgrave’s doctorate focussed on why people chose to stay in rural health positions.

“My study developed a framework that said there are three factors at play. The framework looks at three domains; if you want to attract and retain you have got to be doing these things. You need to be person-centred, place-based, and evidence-informed.”

She said strategies to apply the approach are adapted to suit different environments, including Wairarapa.

“There are about six or seven community connector programmes running across Australia, and the Wairarapa is the next one to begin that. They are still in the development phase. None of them look the same, because it is place-based.”

Cosgrave said programmes start by identifying the problem.

“We quickly move on to what can we do for ourselves. What is in the hands of the individuals, organisations, and the community to address? We are not looking for solutions from the government.”

Her study found the key reason people leave their job is because they aren’t personally satisfied, something that’s caused by a mix of factors, including a lack of social connection and belonging.

“My study identified that if that wasn’t established in the first 12 months, people would leave. Out of that, it was found we needed to have a family-centred approach that was just as interested in partners – because an unhappy partner is dynamite. The whole thing will fall over,” Cosgrave said.

The approach applies to all sectors of the health workforce and all skilled workers in rural areas.

“It’s based on lived experience.”

Cosgrave said there is an intention to continue to work with health workforce professionals in Wairarapa.

“I have never seen such collaboration and such interest,” she said of the Masterton meeting.

“The group is very well placed to be successful.”

More information on Dr Cosgrave’s work is at attractconnectstay.com.au

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