Abstract

Introduction: The uneven distribution of allied health professionals (AHPs) in rural and remote Australia and other countries is well documented. In Australia, like elsewhere, service delivery to rural and remote communities is complicated because relatively small numbers of clients are dispersed over large geographic areas. This uneven distribution of AHPs impacts significantly on the provision of services particularly in areas of special need such as mental health, aged care and disability services.

Objective: This study aimed to determine the relative importance that AHPs (physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists and psychologists – “therapists”) living in a rural area of Australia and working with people with disability, place on different job characteristics and how these may affect their retention.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey was conducted using an online questionnaire distributed to AHPs working with people with disability in a rural area of Australia over a 3-month period. Information was sought about various aspects of the AHPs’ current job, and their workforce preferences were explored using a best–worst scaling discrete choice experiment (BWSDCE). Conditional logistic and latent class regression models were used to determine AHPs’ relative preferences for six different job attributes.

Results: One hundred ninety-nine AHPs completed the survey; response rate was 51 %. Of those, 165 completed the BWSDCE task. For this group of AHPs, “high autonomy of practice” is the most valued attribute level, followed by “travel BWSDCE arrangements: one or less nights away per month”, “travel arrangements: two or three nights away per month” and “adequate access to professional development”. On the other hand, the least valued attribute levels were “travel arrangements: four or more nights per month”, “limited autonomy of practice” and “minimal access to professional development”. Except for “some job flexibility”, all other attributes had a statistical influence on AHPs’ job preference. Preferences differed according to age, marital status and having dependent children.

Conclusions: This study allowed the identification of factors that contribute to AHPs’ employment decisions about staying and working in a rural area. This information can improve job designs in rural areas to increase retention.

Keywords

preferences, retention, rural, disability, best–worst scaling, Australia

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