Nursing in Rural Australia: The workforce experiences in small rural hospitals

Miss Sarah Smith1, Prof. Elizabeth Halcomb1, Dr. Jenny Sim1

1University Of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia


It is estimated that approximately 31% of Australia’s population resides outside major cities (Francis et al., 2014). This places great pressure on rural health services, especially nurses, who are the largest group of health care workers in the rural setting (Francis et al., 2014). Nursing workforce shortages in rural areas is an ongoing concern, as is the issue of retaining skilled nurses (Francis et al., 2016). To address these ongoing issues, the role and challenges faced by nurses working in rural settings needs to be explored.

A national sequential mixed methods study has commenced to explore the experiences of nurses working in small rural hospitals throughout Australia. The study is examining the factors impacting on job satisfaction, investigating career intentions and exploring the professional practice environment within small rural hospitals.

Initial data is currently being gathered via an online survey, which will provide quantitative findings. This data will inform subsequent semi structured interviews that will collect further qualitative data from a sub-group of survey participants. The combination of these two data sets will provide detailed new knowledge around the rural nursing workforce which will have application both nationally and internationally to policy, nursing education and clinical practice.

The proposed presentation will detail the preliminary results obtained from the quantitative phase of the study.

This national study will uncover knowledge about how the challenges faced by nurses working in rural hospitals affect their experiences and intention to stay. It will investigate issues of recruitment and retention, isolation due to geographic location, burnout, role definition and what barriers these issues bring to rural nursing practice. This information may be used to inform future initiatives to increase successful recruitment and retention of skilled clinicians and will also assist in developing future nursing curricula and campaigns to prepare nurses to consider rural nursing.


Sarah is a PhD Candidate with the University of Wollongong. Her research interest is the workforce experiences of nurses in rural hospitals in Australia. She is an early career nurse researcher having completed a nursing Honours program to First Class Level in 2016. She has clinical experience in general practice nursing and rural hospital nursing and is currently employed as a Registered Nurse in a small rural hospital in NSW.