Understanding the field of rural health academic research: a national qualitative, interview-based study

O'Sullivan, Belinda G., Cairns, Alice, and Gurney, Tiana M. (2020) Understanding the field of rural health academic research: a national qualitative, interview-based study. Rural and Remote Health, 20 (3). RRH6116.

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Abstract

Introduction: Rural areas depend on a specific evidence base that directly informs their unique health systems and population health context. Developing this evidence base and its translation depends on a trained rural health academic workforce. However, to date, there is limited description of this workforce and the field of rural health research. This study aimed to characterise this field to inform how it can be fostered.

Methods: Qualitative semi-structured interviews of 50-70 minutes duration were conducted with 17 early career rural health researchers based in Australian rural and remote communities, to explore their professional background, training and research experiences.

Results: Six key themes emerged: becoming a rural health researcher; place-based research that has meaning; generalist breadth; trusted partnerships; small, multidisciplinary research teams; and distance and travel. The field mostly attracted researchers already living in rural areas. Researchers were strongly inspired by doing research that effected local change and addressed inequalities. Their research required a generalist skill set, applying diverse academic and local contextual knowledge that was broader than their doctoral training. Research problems were complex, diverse and required novel methods. Research occurred within trusted community partnerships spanning wide geographic catchments, stakeholders and organisations. This involved extensive leadership, travel and time for engagement and research co-production. Responding to the community was related to researchers doing multiple projects of limited funding. The field was also depicted by research occurring in small collegial, multidisciplinary teams focused on 'people' and 'place' although researchers experienced geographic and professional isolation with respect to their field and main university campuses. Researchers were required to operationalise all aspects of research processes with limited help. They took available opportunities to build capacity in the face of limited staff and high community demand.

Conclusion: The findings suggest that rural health research is highly rewarding, distinguished by a generalist scope and basis of 'rural' socially accountable research that is done in small, isolated teams of limited resources. Strategies are needed to grow capacity to a level fit to address the level of community demand but these must embrace development of the rural academic entry pathway, the generalist breadth and social accountability of this field, which underpins the perceived value of rural health research for rural communities.

Item ID: 64450
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1445-6354
Keywords: academic, Australia, capacity building, generalist, partnerships, rural community, rural health research, socially accountable
Funders: Australian Government (AG), NHMRC
Projects and Grants: AG RHMT program, NHMRC Improving Health Outcomes in the Tropical North: a Multidisciplinary Collaboration (Hot North), grant identification number 1131932
Date Deposited: 23 Sep 2020 07:45
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1605 Policy and Administration > 160511 Research, Science and Technology Policy @ 50%
11 MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES > 1199 Other Medical and Health Sciences > 119999 Medical and Health Sciences not elsewhere classified @ 50%
SEO Codes: 92 HEALTH > 9202 Health and Support Services > 920299 Health and Support Services not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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