Open Access Research article

How health professionals conceive and construct interprofessional practice in rural settings: a qualitative study

Vicki Parker124*, Karen McNeil3, Isabel Higgins4, Rebecca Mitchell3, Penelope Paliadelis1, Michelle Giles2 and Glenda Parmenter1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Health, University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia

2 Hunter New England Nursing and Midwifery Research Centre, Hunter New England Area Health District, Newcastle, NSW 2300, Australia

3 Newcastle Business School, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

4 School of Nursing, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:500  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-500

Published: 1 December 2013



Although interprofessional practice (IPP) offers the potential to enhance rural health services and provide support to rural clinicians, IPP may itself be problematic due to workforce limitations and service fragmentation. Differing socioeconomic and geographic characteristics of rural communities means that the way that IPP occurs in rural contexts will necessarily differ from that occurring in metropolitan contexts. The aim of this study was to investigate the factors contributing to effective IPP in rural contexts, to examine how IPP happens and to identify barriers and enablers.


Using Realistic Evaluation as a framework, semi-structured interviews were conducted with health professionals in a range of rural healthcare contexts in NSW, Australia. Independent thematic analysis was undertaken by individual research team members, which was then integrated through consensus to achieve a qualitative description of rural IPP practice.


There was clear evidence of diversity and complexity associated with IPP in the rural settings that was supported by descriptions of collaborative integrated practice. There were instances where IPP doesn’t and could happen. There were a number of characteristics identified that significantly impacted on IPP including the presence of a shared philosophical position and valuing of IPP and recognition of the benefits, funding to support IPP, pivotal roles, proximity and workforce resources.


The nature of IPP in rural contexts is diverse and determined by a number of critical factors. This study goes some of the way towards unravelling the complexity of IPP in rural contexts, highlighting the strong motivating factors that drive IPP. However, it has also identified significant structural and relational barriers related to workload, workforce, entrenched hierarchies and ways of working and service fragmentation. Further research is required to explicate the mechanisms that drive successful IPP across a range of diverse rural contexts in order to inform the implementation of robust flexible strategies that will support sustainable models of rural IPP.

Interprofessional practice; Rural contexts; Qualitative methods; Health professionals