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Health & Medical Sciences

Rural health: What could your career look like in regional, rural or remote Australia?

Take your healthcare skills out of the city and into regional, rural and remote areas – and discover a range of career and lifestyle benefits.


Venture beyond Australia’s major cities and you’ll find vast areas of outback, the bush, regional centres built around agriculture, mining and tourism, and even small coastal villages. The differences between living in the city and the rest of the country are striking – and those differences extend to healthcare.

The term ‘rural’, geographically speaking, covers Australia’s regional, rural and remote areas – basically anywhere outside a major city. Rural health is the health of people living in these areas. Seven million Australians live in a rural area – and while they might enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle, they can experience more health challenges and generally have poorer access to healthcare.

Thankfully, the Australian Government has recognised the pressing need for a strong rural health strategy, committing to add 3,000 doctors and nurses working in rural areas by 2028. This job growth not only shows a promising outlook for rural communities but gives more appeal to healthcare professionals considering a career in rural health.

Working in rural health can also allow for more specialised training, giving a wider scope of practice and propelling career growth for health professionals. The benefits of being part of a close-knit community and living in a rural location appeal to many wishing for a more laid-back lifestyle.

If we’ve sparked your interest, keep reading about regional, rural and remote healthcare in Australia and how a career in rural health could be for you.

The realities of regional, rural and remote health in Australia

Around 28 per cent of the Australian population live in a rural area. While there is enormous diversity in how ‘remote’ or ‘rural’ these areas are, government data shows people living in these areas:

  • experience a lower life expectancy compared with city dwellers (and in very remote areas, the life expectancy of men compared to men living in metropolitan areas is 14 years younger, and for women, the difference is 19 years)
  • have higher levels of hospitalisations, disease and injury
  • experience poorer access to (and use of) health services

Rural and remote health statistics

  • What percentage of Australia's population live in rural areas?
  • Eighteen per cent live in inner regional areas, 8 per cent in outer regional areas, and 1.9 per cent in remote or very remote areas (1.1% per cent remote and 0.8 per cent very remote).
  • Seven million people live in rural areas, or 28 per cent of the Australian population.
  • People living in rural areas of Australia face higher rates of hospitalisations, fatalities, injuries and greater challenges in accessing healthcare.

Rural health issues in Australia: contributing factors

Recent data shows that people in rural areas are more likely to engage in risky health behaviours such as “smoking and consuming alcohol at levels that put them at risk of lifetime harm.”

Those living in remote areas are 24 times more likely to be hospitalised for domestic violence than those living in cities. Chronic conditions such as asthma, arthritis and diabetes are also more prevalent in areas outside major cities.

The data speaks volumes. However, to get a deeper understanding of the realities of rural health in Australia, we spoke to Katrina Robertson, a sonographer, radiographer, business owner and coach living and working in Blayney, a small farming town in Central West New South Wales.

Robertson says access to medical equipment is a challenge in these smaller towns. “In Blayney, if you need a CT [scan] or anything else, you’ve got to travel at least half an hour to either Bathurst or Orange. There’s nothing local.” She notes that this is just a practical reality and adds: “There's no point in putting an MRI machine in Blayney when there's only a population of 3,000 if it's only going to be used once a day”.

This challenge increases with remoteness. “When I worked in Dubbo, we were very much a hub for everywhere out further west,” Robertson says. “We’d have patients come over from Walgett or Bourke or further west, travelling three to five hours to get to town just to have an ultrasound.”

Access to rural healthcare in Australia is fraught with challenges due to the geographic spread of the population, limited infrastructure, and the resulting higher costs of delivering rural healthcare.

The rural health workforce

The challenges of rural health are a global phenomenon. In Australia, reports confirm those in rural areas “experience health workforce shortages, despite having a greater need for medical services and practitioners with a broader scope of practice.” This can mainly be attributed to barriers for health professionals staying in rural locations, like proximity to family, access to facilities and lack of opportunities for partners and children.

In response, the Australian Government has developed the Stronger Rural Health Strategy (SRHS). The strategy aims to “build a sustainable, high-quality health workforce that is distributed across the country according to community need.”

Despite this 10-year strategy beginning in 2018-2019, rural communities still experience difficulties attracting doctors, nurses and other health professionals. As of December 2022, medical practitioner and nursing vacancies in regions represented nearly half the vacancies nationally, while regional Australia only represented a third of the population.

Working in rural healthcare

With challenge comes opportunity, and in addition to the volume of healthcare vacancies available outside the cities as well as a variety of grants and scholarships help you relocate to a rural area, working in rural healthcare can be a positive experience. It can accelerate your career and make a huge difference to a small community.

Close collaboration with other medical professionals is just one of the benefits of working in rural health, says Robertson. “We have a much closer relationship with our referrers in very regional areas.” She says that the work-life balance can be better in these areas too, along with less traffic and cheaper house prices.

The nature of rural health also means you’ll develop a broader skill set as you’ll likely be exposed and given opportunities to work across different areas. Robertson explains: “Working in a rural setting, there’s a little bit more time up your sleeve and so you’re more likely to get specialised training. When I was training in radiography, I would sometimes go up to theatre and get taught different things in theatre and in emergency. And then I’d get pulled into CT and get trained in that.”

Working in a rural location can also mean you’ll develop stronger bonds with members of the community as you’ll see a smaller number of patients more often, given the lesser population in rural areas.

Technological advances also mean some of the barriers or difficulties associated with working in these areas are lifting.

“If it were 15 years ago or 20 years ago, things would be very, very different. Technology has come such a long way, particularly since COVID-19, around what we can do remotely. It's really opened up access to different things, even as far as Medicare goes with billing for telehealth services,” Robertson says.

Move your healthcare career outside the city with a rural health course

A career in rural healthcare can have many advantages in terms of career progression, career satisfaction, work-life balance and your general lifestyle. Given the shortages and challenges, rural health employers are supportive and often offer a range of benefits and incentives to encourage city professionals to make that location change.

Those who have a passion for healthcare, enjoy working in a dynamic environment, value being in a close-knit community, and have a commitment to the health of rural Australians should consider studying a rural health course. A course, such as a rural health or rural nursing course, can equip you with the necessary skills and a deep understanding of the nature of rural healthcare to help you succeed.

To attract even more skilled healthcare workers out of the cities and into smaller communities, there are a range of rural health scholarships and programs on offer.

Start exploring regional, rural and remote healthcare jobs

If you’re ready to kickstart a career in health that takes you out of the city, it’s a good idea to have some understanding of the types of rural health jobs out there.

There are a diverse range of rewarding job opportunities available for health professionals, including rural mental health clinicians, such as counsellors and psychologists, registered and mental health nurses, social workers, medical practitioners and allied health professionals. Medical practitioners and nurses are the most in-demand health roles and are needed to address the healthcare needs of rural Australia.

Ready to advance your career (and improve a community’s access to healthcare)?

Pursuing a career in rural health not only enriches healthcare professionals with invaluable professional and personal experiences, but helps to build healthier communities. Choosing to work in rural health also means you’re actively helping to close the gap in access to healthcare for all Australians.

Explore our range of online postgraduate health courses including counselling, leadership and management, mental health, nursing, psychology and public health to find one that suits you. Take the next step towards a fulfilling career in rural healthcare.