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Blog #64- How to Survive in Rural Practice and Actually Love it?

Living in rural towns can be such a rewarding experience and can provide you with extensive experience in a range of different areas. In saying this however it can be quite isolating at times and overwhelming if you are the only physiotherapist in a rural town. You might ask yourself, “how can I keep up with the demand?” “what if I do not know something, who can I talk to?” “what services are available in the town that I can refer a patient to?”. These questions can often lead to physiotherapists or other health professionals not wanting to work or continuing to work in rural locations. This is a broad issue that we are seeing with GPs and various types of health professionals who are getting burnt out. Often physiotherapy students have done a rural placement and presume that the treating physios would not be up to date with current research, evidence based practice or have much desire to continue their professional development. I feel like this often means that physios and other allied health professionals will avoid working rurally for fear that they may not develop or progress as much as they would as a treating therapist in a city, when in fact it can be the opposite.

Working rurally can give therapists independence and the autonomy to treat how they would prefer. The patient caseloads rurally are so diverse and can be very beneficial for therapists who may not have a “specific” area of interest and would prefer to do a mixture of neuro, cardio, musculoskeletal, geriatrics and paediatrics. Due to this varied caseload, therapists working rurally become motivated to further develop their knowledge in an array of areas and become a rural generalist physiotherapist rather than just treating in one area. This broadened knowledge can lead to treating more effectively as you have experience in not just one area but know about other areas that might be contributing to someone’s pain.

So how can we overcome the isolation or overwhelm that some therapists might initially feel when taking a rural job? How can we keep our therapists happy in a rural position?

- Ensure you have a mentor- someone that can support you both clinically and professionally, ask patient related questions to or give you some career advice

- Communicate with other health professionals in your area- this will lead you to feeling less isolated, gain knowledge/advice about client presentations but also know if a patient requires other services who to refer them to

- Continue professional development- assess what your interest areas are and what the needs/wants of the caseload would be and choose a course that will not only benefit you professionally but allow you to offer another service to a community. This will help you feel needed and appreciated within the community.

- Integrate yourself personally within the community outside of work

- Think long term- where would you like to see yourself in the next 3-5 years? Have you always wanted to start your own clinic? Have you always wanted to specialize in a particular area? Have you always wanted to do a mixture of hospital and private practice? Have you always wanted to start a class or course within the community?

These are all possibilities in a rural community and often can be opportunities not as readily available in the cities due to the high number of already established private practices and large staff numbers. A lot of physios strive to “get to the top” but then realise that it can be rather an impossible feat.

Working in a rural community can be a fantastic way to develop not only your clinical knowledge and reasoning but can give you immense job satisfaction. You gain so many relationships with other clinicians and with your clients which makes you feel like such an integral part within a community. If you can surround yourself with a support network and have the drive to continue to better yourself, most therapists find themselves loving rural work and not wanting to leave. The biggest step is giving it a go!


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