Open Access Research article

Engaging rural preceptors in new longitudinal community clerkships during workforce shortage: a qualitative study

Judith N Hudson*, Kathryn M Weston and Elizabeth A Farmer

Author Affiliations

Graduate School of Medicine, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW, Australia

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BMC Family Practice 2011, 12:103  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-12-103

Published: 27 September 2011

Abstract

Background

In keeping with its mission to produce doctors for rural and regional Australia, the University of Wollongong, Graduate School of Medicine has established an innovative model of clinical education. This includes a 12-month integrated community-based clerkship in a regional or rural setting, offering senior students longitudinal participation in a 'community of practice' with access to continuity of patient care experiences, continuity of supervision and curriculum, and individualised personal and professional development. This required developing new teaching sites, based on attracting preceptors and providing them with educational and physical infrastructure. A major challenge was severe health workforce shortages.

Methods

Before the new clerkship started, we interviewed 28 general practitioners to determine why they engaged as clerkship preceptors. Independent researchers conducted semi-structured interviews. Responses were transcribed for inductive qualitative content analysis.

Results

The new model motivated preceptors to engage because it enhanced their opportunities to contribute to authentic learning when compared with the perceived limitations of short-term attachments. Preceptors appreciated the significant recognition of the value of general practice teaching and the honour of major involvement in the university. They predicted that the initiative would have positive effects on general practitioner morale and improve the quality of their practice. Other themes included the doctors' commitment to their profession, 'handing on' to the next generation and helping their community to attract doctors in the future.

Conclusions

Supervisors perceive that new models of clinical education offer alternative solutions to health care education, delivery and workforce. The longitudinal relationship between preceptor, student and community was seen as offering reciprocal benefits. General practitioners are committed to refining practice and ensuring generation of new members in their profession. They are motivated to engage in novel regional and rural longitudinal clinical clerkships as they perceive that they offer students an authentic learning experience and are a potential strategy to help address workforce shortages and maldistribution.

Keywords:
community-based education; longitudinal clinical clerkships; medical education; rural health; preceptor recruitment; workforce maldistribution; qualitative research