Trialling a whole-of-person approach for improving retention of rural-based allied health professionals

Dr Cath Cosgrave1, Ms  Rachael Cooper2, Ms  Kathie Lowe3

1University Of Melbourne, Department Of Rural Health, Wangaratta, Australia, 2East Grampians Health Service, Ararat, Australia, 3Goulburn Valley Heath, Shepparton, Australia


Aim: Attracting and retaining allied health professionals (AHPs) is a ‘wicked’ problem facing most rural health services. Based on research conducted by Dr Cosgrave on factors influencing the retention of rural AHPs she developed a whole-of-person (WoP) retention improvement framework. In 2018 (The University of Melbourne – Department of Rural Health) established a partnership with two Victorian public health services (East Grampians Health Service and Goulburn Valley Health) to trial a retention improvement program targeting early-career and newly-arrived AHPs. The project’s aim is to reduce avoidable turnover of AHP staff by implementing strategies to improve job and personal satisfaction.

Method: A participatory action research methodology is being used. Each site has a co-funded Project Worker. The research commenced with Dr Cosgrave interviewing eligible staff and key informants to identify context-specific workforce issues. This data and the WoP framework were then analysed to develop a set of recommendations for each health service to improve retention of the AHP workforce and to establish early career AHP retention targets.

Results: This presentation will explain the WoP retention framework and present key findings from the data collected. Some of the current retention improvement activities being undertaken by the health services will be presented, including social connection strategies and early career AHP support programs.  The similarities and differences between the two sites and their turnover/retention data will be discussed. The challenges the two rural health services are experiencing leading this complex cultural change process will be presented. The experience of rural communities taking an active role in a workforce retention initiative will also be covered.

This presentation has broad relevance for health services, rural communities, and government agencies wanting to address the wicked problem of rural AHPs shortages.


Cath Cosgrave
Dr Cosgrave is a social scientist & a qualitative researcher. Her research specialisations are rural health workforce, recruitment & retention of nursing & allied health professionals; sub-specialisations include early-career & health professionals from non-rural backgrounds. She undertakes applied research, working in partnership with health services to develop new, whole-of-person approaches to recruitment & retention & brokering community-based solutions for meeting the social &personal needs of professionals living in rural towns. She is committed to improving the quality of rural health services & the level of community inclusion for people from vulnerable population groups.

Rachael Cooper
Rachael is an Accredited Practising Dietitian who has worked in rural health for 17 years. She moved to Ararat from Melbourne after graduating & has a good understanding of the difficulties new staff have settling into rural life & working in sole allied health positions. Rachael commenced as project worker for the Whole-of-person retention project in October 2017.

Kathie Lowe
Kathie’s career experience is across public, private and community health sectors for over twenty years.  She has worked as a clinical physiotherapist in regional and metropolitan Victoria, Australia.  Although Kathie has post-graduate qualifications in Sports Physiotherapy, her ongoing clinical area of interest is Neurological Rehabilitation particularly in interprofessional care of clients in subacute rehabilitation.  Kathie’s current role is Allied Health (Therapy) Education and Research Coordinator at Goulburn Valley Health, Shepparton, Victoria.  In this role, she coordinates student clinical placements, work experience placements and staff education for allied health in acute, subacute and community programs.  This was a newly created role, so has included developing relationships with internal and external stakeholders, and developing processes and programs to address the educational needs of allied health staff and students at GV Health.  This role also includes supporting allied health staff in clinical research and service evaluation.