Six Australian universities have joined forces to conduct a landmark study that will track nursing and allied health graduates over 10 years to examine where they end up working and why.
The Nursing and Allied Health Graduate Outcome Tracking (NAHGOT) study will follow thousands of nurses and allied health professionals for 10 years post-graduation, giving researchers the most comprehensive snapshot of national workplace trends in the sector.
The study, which began in 2017 as a partnership between Monash University and the University of Newcastle, now involves a collaboration between Deakin University, the University of Newcastle, Monash University, The University of Queensland, University of Southern Queensland, and University of South Australia. Key areas of focus include the factors that influence the choice of work location and what changes are needed to solve the ongoing problem of nurse and allied health professional shortages in regional, rural and remote areas.
By linking practice location data from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) with university administrative records, together with the national Student Experience Survey and Graduate Outcomes Survey, the universities expect to add more than 7,000 students to the study each year, with a goal to track graduate outcomes for 10 years post-registration.
Professor Vin Versace, Director of Deakin Rural Health and inaugural Chair of the NAHGOT Steering Committee, says the distribution of the healthcare workforce is a key challenge for the equitable delivery of healthcare, particularly in regional, rural, and remote parts of Australia, and that universities were the logical choice to track graduate outcomes on this scale.
“Unlike other data custodians, universities hold admission and professional placement data not available elsewhere – this is key to understanding the type of graduate that is most likely to live and work in a rural location once they complete their training,” Professor Versace said.
According to Dr Keith Sutton, from Monash Rural Health, most of the previous large-scale graduate tracking research has focussed on the medical workforce, whereas the NAHGOT study will contribute to the broader health workforce.
“We expect as the project matures the insights will become a major contributor to workforce planning and augment established efforts in medicine. We’ve established a framework that allows for future expansion of the NAHGOT study to include other institutions.”
Martin Jones, from the University of South Australia, suggests that in Australia, and other countries, evaluations of rural health workforce programs aimed at increasing the numbers of nursing and allied healthcare professionals have been over short periods and not completed at scale.
“This has made it difficult to provide accurate data on how they have addressed rural health workforce shortages,” Mr Jones said.
Southern Queensland Rural Health’s (SQRH) Associate Professor Geoff Argus believes NAHGOT is the only large-scale study of its kind focusing on Australian nursing, midwifery, and allied health graduates and the factors that lead to rural practice.
“This project will provide important information to inform future rural health workforce policy and potentially influence the way health training is delivered in rural Australia,” Associate Professor Argus said.
All NAHGOT participating universities are funded by the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training (RHMT) program, with the study design reflecting the objectives of the Commonwealth Department of Health.
Associate Professor Leanne Brown, from the University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health, said University Departments of Rural Health funded under the RHMT program had a vested interest in tracking where graduates end up working.
“We are also keen to understand how our rural programs may influence students to return to rural and rural practice both in the short and longer term,” Associate Professor Brown said.
National Rural Health Commissioner Professor Ruth Stewart said she was excited to see the development of the plan to track nursing and allied health graduate outcomes.
“The NAHGOT project will give the health sector the data we need to begin to understand where graduates of our Australian universities are working and why, to understand what drives them to work in one way, or site, in preference to others,” Professor Stewart said.
“When we have a better understanding of these things, we can tailor our programs to ensure that we are training the health workforce that our communities need.”