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Aim: This study aimed to explore what changes rural placement had on the perceptions of nursing students and the impact of placement frequency and duration on student considerations for rural practice.

Background: A strong rural healthcare workforce is a global concern and has led countries to look for creative ways to address this challenge. One approach is to train more health professionals, however, nursing students who grew up or lived in metropolitan or urbanised areas are suggested to be less inclined to pursue a rural career. As such it is posited that recurrent exposure to rural settings may exert a positive impact on future intention for rural practice. However, there is a need to explore the specific thresholds related to both the frequency and duration of rural placement exposure, as well as the cumulative impact multiple rural placements may have on the intention to engage in rural practice.

Design: A repeated cross-sectional design.

Methods: All nursing students from an Australian regional university were invited to complete an online questionnaire between 2019 and 2023. Demographic and placement specific questions were included. A modified version of the Nursing Community Apgar tool also measured the importance of key variables in rural career decision-making. Data were analysed using independent sample t-tests and one-way ANOVAs. Significance was determined at two-tailed p≤.05.

Results: Among the 835 respondents (response rate 15.4%), the average number and duration of rural placements was 2.45 placements and 3.01 weeks respectively. Rural placements did not have an impact on students who resided rurally or regionally. However, among metropolitan students who had experienced more than three rural placements, or more than sixteen cumulative weeks of placement, were significantly more likely to consider rural employment. Greater number of rural placements and longer cumulative duration had the greatest impact.

Conclusion: Issues related to the nursing rural workforce are dynamic and complex. Understanding the unique drivers that improve the rural experiences among students, particularly metropolitan students, can have an impact on decision-making to pursue employment in rural environments. Importantly, whilst professional and clinical motivation and experiences are influential factors, the socialisation, environment and community features are essential elements that influence students’ decisions to pursue a career in rural practice. Undertaking a nuanced approach that facilitates rural practice understanding among students may help shape future employment decision-making.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.