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Abstract

Objective: The objective of this pilot study was to identify personal and professional factors that influence health workers’ commitment to remaining in rural and remote areas with the aim of identifying research directions for a larger study and informing workforce recruitment and retention strategies. Design: Accidental sampling then qualitative interviews with pharmacists and social workers. Setting: Six rural communities with populations less than 5,000 in New South Wales, Australia. Methodology: Deductive and inductive analysis of data. Results: Common rewards included the value attached to pharmacists’ and social workers’ contributions to rural communities, ability to assist people to solve problems, and accessibility. Common barriers included lack of peer support, inability to attend professional development, and inadequate social and cultural facilities. The key factor mediating personal and professional experiences was a perception of community connectedness. Personal and professional issues are interrelated. Social workers in the public health system are more likely to change jobs than community pharmacists. Conclusion: Social workers and pharmacists appear to experience similar rewards and barriers in their professional and personal lives when compared to other rural health workers, including general practitioners, all of which are mediated by the degree to which they are connected to their community. Rewards and barriers in personal and professional life exist on an interrelated continuum that has to be balanced to manage a high degree of visibility experienced by health workers in small rural communities. Implications: The need for a systematic evaluation of workforce retention strategies is highlighted. New practitioners require skills in managing the connections between personal and professional life rather than viewing them as separate. Further work is required into the implications of life stage on decisions about work location.

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