Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Opportunities for families needed to encourage GPs to work rural study shows

Regional investment in strong local secondary schools and supporting professional employment opportunities are just as important as individual financial incentives to encourage GPs to work in rural areas a new study by Monash University researchers shows.

The needs of children and partners are a major factor in whether GPs choose to work in a rural location

The study was the first systematic, national longitudinal study of Australian GPs to show that the needs of children and partners rank highly in GPs’ choice of work location – and the influences on their choice vary depending on the GP’s gender.

Study author, Dr Belinda O’Sullivan, said Australian, Canadian and US studies consistently identify these two non-professional factors – children’s education and partner employment – as major barriers to GPs choosing rural locations to work. “This study supports those findings and shows further that their influence is dynamic over the course of a GP’s career,” said Dr O’Sullivan. “Most GPs have a partner and school-aged children at some stage during their career, so these factors need to rate highly in policy efforts to redress the maldistribution of GPs.”

Drawing on data gathered between 2008 and 2014, the research found that 45 per cent of GPs had at least one school-aged child, 30 per cent had at least one child of secondary-school age, and two-thirds had a partner in the workforce. The interesting thing was how their school-aged children and partners in the workforce affected male and female GPs' decisions to work in a rural location differently.

Male GPs were just as likely to work rurally whether or not they had pre-school or primary school children. However, those with at least one child in secondary school were consistently much less likely to work in rural areas. Female GPs with children, on the other hand, were consistently less likely to work in a rural location no matter what age their children were.

“It seems likely that female GPs make a choice about their work location when their children are younger, perhaps to enable better access to family and other supports,” said Dr O’Sullivan. “Enabling improved professional employment opportunities for their spouse or partner also seems to be a factor.”

Here again, gender differences were apparent. Having a partner in the workforce was not associated with work location for male GPs; however, the opposite was true for female GPs. They were less likely to work in smaller rural or remote towns than female GPs without a partner in the workforce.
“It is possible that partners of female GPs have less flexible professional roles, or have specific skills and interests more suited to work in metropolitan or larger regional towns than partners of male GPs, who may be more flexible with career skills and interests,” said Dr O’Sullivan.

The study’s implications for attracting GPs to rural areas and keeping them there are broad-ranging. “While it is still important for rural workforce planners and employers to pay attention to meeting the professional needs of GPs, they also need to think about meeting the changing educational and employment needs of the GP’s family which vary by gender and the age of their children,” said Dr O’Sullivan. “Having a deeper understanding of the likely family needs of different GPs may enable rural communities to better target their marketing, recruitment and retention of doctors. Where those needs can be met by existing community employment and educational infrastructure, chances are the GP will stay longer.”

‘Family effects on the rurality of GP’s work location: a longitudinal panel study’ was published in Human Resources for Health.

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