Enhance your employability (and have the time of your life)
Published 6 Oct, 2023 · 9-minute read
When it comes to health placements, students often envision busy hospitals and bustling clinics as their primary learning environment. However, an increasing number of students are finding themselves drawn towards rural health placements for a unique and rewarding experience.
Imagine leaving city life behind and immersing yourself in the local culture, where your skills hold the potential to bring about genuine change to underserved communities.
Rural placements offer a unique opportunity for health students to learn, develop, and make a meaningful impact.
In this article, we explore what rural placements are and the reasons why so many students love packing their bags and heading rural.
What are rural health placements?
Rural health placements offer students in health-related fields the opportunity to further their professional and personal development in an environment that offers many new and exciting experiences.
Students may find themselves working in clinics, hospitals, community health centres, or other healthcare facilities in rural or remote areas of Queensland. During these placements, students get to help real patients, solve a broad range of health issues, make new friends and connections, and experience different cultures.
Unique learning opportunities
"Working at the Dalby Dental Clinic has broadened my horizons about health care in rural and regional areas. I think it does give you a bit of a better idea of what goes on in Australia as a whole. So not just in the big cities, but also in small towns like Dalby."
- Dan Yuet Yau, Bachelor of Dental Science (Honours)
One of the primary reasons students love rural health placements is the unique learning experiences they offer.
Health professionals in these areas often face situations that urban environments don't typically present. This is largely due to the unique blend of health and lifestyle factors intertwined with rural living.
While on placement, you’ll be presented with a diverse range of health challenges that will test and broaden your knowledge. From managing chronic diseases to treating unique agricultural injuries, you’ll encounter a fascinating array of cases.
This exposure will not only enhance your skills but also broaden your understanding of healthcare inequalities, including challenges such as transportation barriers, workforce shortages, and the disparities in access to quality care.
"I discovered that a pharmacist in a rural location performs several tasks different from those performed by pharmacists in urban areas. If the pharmacists are unable to help the patient, they would advise the patient to have an online consultation. My preceptor explained how successful this approach has been."
"I’ve got to do pretty much everything you can imagine to do with speech. The majority of our case load has been paediatric outpatients in the hospital, working on literacy and speech. Then we will go up to the wards to see inpatients who come in for swallow reviews or communication assessments."
"I feel like you potentially have more learning opportunities out here and I think you also just get to see things that you don't see in the city. Whether it's having to be a bit more creative when supporting someone because there are service gaps and issues with accessing things. There is also a bit of advocacy involved in that."
- Fuchsia, Bachelor of Social Work (Honours)
Professional and personal growth opportunities
"I spent some of the best 5 weeks living in the nurses’ quarters at the Toowoomba Base Hospital and I loved every moment. I committed to making sure I made the most of my time in Toowoomba and, on reflection, I’m proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone while living away from home."
- Lucy, Master of Dietetics Studies
Rural placements offer more than just experience and training – they're about personal and professional growth.
When faced with healthcare challenges on rural placement, you’ll gain important skills, such as how to handle tough situations when resources are limited, and building resilience and problem-solving abilities that will serve you throughout your professional journey.
On a personal level, engaging with local communities and witnessing the impact of your efforts gives students a greater sense of confidence and fosters a sense of purpose and fulfilment.
This experience often motivates students to care about and work on addressing the distinct healthcare access and outcome challenges in rural areas. Some students become advocates for rural healthcare and, after graduation, opt to work as healthcare providers in these rural communities. Read Bec and Emily’s story for a great example of this.
What’s more, going on a rural placement demonstrates initiative, a proactive approach to learning, and the ability to thrive outside comfort zones. Potential employers recognise these qualities as indicators of future success in the workplace.
Stepping outside your comfort zone isn’t always easy, but it's in those moments of stepping beyond what's familiar that you discover your true potential as a future health professional.
"Without a doubt, my rural placement played a huge role in helping me make the next step in my career. I am now studying medicine in Wollongong and I don’t think I would’ve made it here without the rural experience I had in Toowoomba and all the things I learnt during that time. They’re short and sweet, but you learn so much that can be applied in your career and life in the future."
When you're on rural placement, you get the exciting opportunity to learn with other students and professionals from different healthcare areas. This enhances your understanding of how different health professions can work more collaboratively together to deliver high-quality care.
What is interprofessional education?
Interprofessional education is the learning that occurs when different professions learn with, from and about each other so they’re able to collaborate more effectively and ultimately provide better health outcomes for patients.
When you join the healthcare workforce, you’ll be working closely with professionals from other disciplines to meet the needs of your patients. It’s therefore vital that, as a student, you learn how to work with other health professions as part of your training.
Rural placement is a unique opportunity to learn alongside other professions in a supportive environment and gain these crucial skills which will help you to excel in the workplace and deliver the best possible care.
Working within a rural healthcare team, you will see first-hand how different professional skills come together to solve health problems. It's all about working together for the good of the patient and the health and wellbeing of rural communities.
What you learn will help you to develop the knowledge and skills to practise in an interprofessional manner and prepare you for working in an interprofessional healthcare team upon graduation.
"You’re with nurses, doctors, allied health professionals, and Indigenous health workers who just want to share as much knowledge with you as they can. It’s a really supportive learning environment where you can ask as many questions as you want. If you want to take time to learn what you’re doing, why you’re doing your job, you should probably think about going rural."
- Cate, Bachelor of Nursing and Midwifery
"I enjoyed working with the multidisciplinary team within the hospital to treat patients and seeing how smaller hospitals were run. My mentors and supervisors that I worked under were so welcoming and knowledgeable."
- Lucy, Master of Dietetics Studies
The adventures of rural life
Imagine strolling through towns with an old-world charm, where traffic is a rarity, and the laidback country lifestyle becomes your new normal.
Rural placements offer a chance to experience what living in a rural area is really like. On your days off, you could find yourself fishing down by a river, plunging into a hot artesian spring, 4-wheel driving over rugged terrain, camping under the stars, or watching camel races and rodeos.
There is something truly special about rural life that many students fall in love with.
"One thing that surprised me a lot is that you’re out kind of in the middle of nowhere, and it’s very far from Brisbane, but there has not been a single weekend where it hasn’t been busy. There has been so much to do if you put in the effort. One weekend we did a camping trip. We went out to Quilpie, camped at the lake, and watched the sunset there, which was just unreal. The countryside is so isolated, and just so beautiful."
- Lachie, Bachelor of Speech Pathology (Honours)
Welcoming people and the community vibe
"When you go on rural placement, even though it’s daunting, especially if you’ve grown up in the city, you find that the community out here is supportive, friendly and, most importantly, genuine. You learn to grow up and get the chance to see the world through a completely different lens, and your perspective on a lot of things is seen through fresh eyes."
- Anabella, Bachelor of Speech Pathology (Honours)
Rural communities are well-known for their tight-knit nature and hospitality. You’ll walk into your placement setting feeling warmly welcomed. You’ll become a familiar face and trusted by the community you serve, and you’ll have the chance to forge strong relationships with patients and health professionals alike.
The smaller community size allows for more intimate interactions, enabling you to truly understand your patients’ stories, challenges, and healthcare needs. These personal connections foster empathy, cultural competence, and a deeper understanding of the impact of social factors on health care. Plus, you’ll make friends for life!
"Lean into the team you are working with. The small community is such a nice experience. They will take you out, they will do things with you. You will get to see things you usually wouldn’t get to see."
- Bec, Bachelor of Social Work (Honours)
Working with people from all different backgrounds
Whether in small towns or Indigenous communities, through your rural placement you’ll meet a broad range of people.
These placements offer a chance to learn alongside, from, and about different cultural groups, including First Nations peoples. This deepens your cultural understanding, which is a valuable asset in the healthcare field.
The impact you make on placement will extend to communities that have historically faced unique healthcare challenges. And the skills you gain from working with these populations will accompany you through your entire career.
"It’s good to put our cultural capability training into practice but also to see it in person. It’s the first time going from learning about it to actually working with these populations. It’s been very rewarding and educational."
- Lachie, Bachelor of Speech Pathology (Honours)
Professional networking and mentoring
On rural placement, you’ll have the opportunity to network with passionate healthcare professionals who are dedicated to serving their communities.
These professionals become mentors who provide invaluable insight into rural healthcare practice and advice that can guide you on your career path. These mentor relationships can extend beyond your placement period and open doors to future career opportunities.
"The staff I worked with were very informative and fantastic people to work alongside. They gave me the opportunity to experience all aspects of pharmacy while I was out there and taught me how pharmacy in rural areas differs from pharmacy in the city."
- Amaya, Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours)
Interested in going on a rural or regional placement?
Ready to enhance your career journey while having the time of your life? Pack your bags and head rural – it's an adventure you won't want to miss!
Find out more about what you can expect from a rural or regional placement, how UQ can assist you on placement, and how to apply today.