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Introduction: The shortage of registered nurses is an issue globally, but particularly in rural and remote areas. Previous research in medicine suggests that recruiting students from rural backgrounds is an effective strategy to enhance the supply of rural healthcare providers. This strategy has not been widely adopted or evaluated in nursing. The purpose of this study was to compare rural and urban nursing students in relation to application, admission, and retention/graduation trends at a metropolitan state university in the Pacific Northwest area of the USA.
Methods: A retrospective longitudinal descriptive design was used, analyzing existing data from 2005 to 2010. The sample included 1283 applicants, accepted students, and graduates. Rural-urban classification was made using rural urban commuting area (RUCA) codes based on high school zip codes, identifying 356 (28%) rural and 927 (72%) urban individuals. The data were analyzed quantitatively, assessing demographic characteristics along with application, admission and retention/graduation rates.
Results: The analysis indicated no significant differences between the rural and urban samples in relation to age, gender, parents’ level of education, income, or retention rates. The acceptance rate for rural students (66.3%) was significantly lower than for urban students (73.1%) (p=0.015). When rural subgroups (isolated, small rural and large rural) were examined, the isolated group (n=61) had the highest acceptance rate of any rural or urban group (75%). This group was the least ethnically diverse (95% Caucasian), was the least likely to be first-generation college (22%), had the highest percentage of females (85%) and had the highest entering grade point average (3.65 on a four-point scale). In contrast, the subgroup including individuals from large rural communities (n=182) had the lowest acceptance rate (64%), the lowest retention rate 85%, the lowest entering grade point average (3.42), and the highest percentage of first-generation college individuals (50.9%).
Conclusions: The findings suggest that students from rural backgrounds achieve similar levels of success in nursing education, despite lower acceptance rates, when compared with urban students. Addressing issues related to lower acceptance rates for rural nursing students, including targeted recruitment and support efforts with students interested in pursuing nursing at the junior and senior high school levels, may be indicated. Further research is indicated to explore differences among rural subgroups in relation to preparation for and achievement in nursing education. Greater research attention is also needed to assess if nursing students from rural backgrounds tend to practice in rural areas more than students from urban backgrounds, similar to previous research in medicine. Because students tend to practice near their place of education, nursing education programs may need to consider locating outside of large urban areas to promote rural practice. Inclusion of rural content and clinical experiences within nursing curricula is also recommended.

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This document was originally published by James Cook University in Rural and Remote Health. Copyright restrictions may apply.

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