Supporting rural mature-aged nursing and allied health students: A systematic scoping review

Associate Professor Carol McKinstry1, Dr Claire Quilliam2, Dr  Nicole Crawford3, Associate Professor Anna Wong4,5, Dr Pamela Harvey6, Dr Kristen Glenister2, Dr Keith Sutton6

1La Trobe University, Bendigo, Australia, 2University of Melbourne, Shepparton, Australia, 3Curtin University, Perth, Australia, 4Deakin University, Geelong, Australia, 5Ballarat Health Services, Ballarat, Australia, 6Monash University, Bendigo, Australia

The maldistribution of the nursing and allied health workforce has led to chronic rural shortages.  Current strategies focus on attracting rural school leavers into health courses and providing quality rural placements.  Recruitment and retention of rural, mature-aged students into health courses is often overlooked as a possible source of future workforce.

This study aimed to scope research evidence relating to rural, mature-aged nursing and allied health students, particularly supports needed to increase participation in, and successful completion of university health courses.

A systematised scoping review was undertaken and included literature relating to rural mature-aged nursing and allied health students. Five relevant databases were searched, and key journals and grey literature were hand searched.

Fourteen studies were included. Twelve were Australian studies and eight involved nursing students.  Six studies identified barriers to student participation and successfully completing their studies, while four identified student supports. Study barriers included students’ non-university commitments, such as work, home duties and parenting.  Mature-aged students faced challenges related to social isolation, difficulties using technology, health concerns and disillusionment with their chosen profession. Study supports included family support, a university well-being programs and government funding.

There is limited evidence to inform higher education providers regarding strategies to recruit, retain and support rural, mature-aged nursing and allied health students to successfully complete their courses.  More supports are needed at individual, course, university and societal levels. A stronger focus on supporting rural communities to grow their own nursing and allied health workforce is required to help reduce workforce shortages.


Carol is Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy at La Trobe University, within the Rural Health School, at the Bendigo Campus, in Victoria, Australia.  She is also Head of the Rural Department of Allied Health. Her research has primarily focused on developing a workforce to meet the challenges of the future, particularly for communities in rural and regional areas and in emerging areas of practice for occupational therapists.  She is also the current President of Occupational Therapy Australia.

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