Financial Support for Upskilling Rural Health Professionals

23 November 2023

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​The Health Workforce Scholarship Program (HWSP) provides funding through scholarships and bursaries, to help health professionals in remote and rural Australia retain and enhance their skills, capacity and scope of practice.

For remote and rural health professionals there are challenges in attaining and maintaining skills and competencies relevant to their practice and career. Not only is there the additional expenses and challenges related to distance, but daily practice also often involves a greater diversity of clinical and non-clinical demands and skillsets.  

The HWSP can help with these challenges and through its broad application the program can also be utilised as a workforce attraction strategy and a retention tool to support workforce to stay.

The Program provides bursaries and scholarships of up to $10,000 per 12-month period, to privately employed medical, nursing, midwifery, allied health, dental and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals providing primary healthcare in remote and rural areas (MM3-7) and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (MM1-7). Funding can support a range of upskilling such as formal post-graduate study, workshops, short courses, online workshops and conferences.

Since the commencement of the program nationally in 2018, a total of 20,017 bursaries and 2,323 scholarships have been awarded nationwide!

In Queensland last financial year, we supported 753 eligible health professionals providing primary health care services in remote and rural Queensland private practices and ACCHSs. The total amount awarded for these scholarships and bursaries was $1,738,151. The highest number of recipients, 37%, were based in MM2 locations, 26% in MM5 locations and 10% in MM6 locations. See chart below for more details. ​

In order to understand the impact of the scholarship program on workforce retention, we have been tracking Queensland recipients to see how many are still practicing in rural areas.

In 2018, when the program commenced there were 146 scholarship recipients in Queensland. Analysis of 137 recipients from this cohort indicated that almost 85% are currently practicing rurally (within MM 2-7 locations) 5 years later.

The outcome was similar for the 2019 cohort with 85% of recipients still practicing rurally and this continues to increase as we move to our more recent cohorts with 89% of the 2020 cohort and 92% of the 2021 cohorts still practicing rurally.

Workforce turnover for remote, rural, and regional Queensland in both 2021 and 2022 represented 17% of the total workforce, so the retention rates of scholarship recipients is so positive to see. 

HWSP recipient, Dr Hnin Wynn a rural GP from St George in Queensland, talks about how the program supports health professionals to enhance their skills to manage the complexities of rural practice and provides increased benefits to the community, in the video linked below.

Dr Hnin Wynn

From 2018 – 2023 almost 3,000 participant evaluations have been received nationally.. Participants identified that the main outcomes for them from accessing support through the HWSP were increased knowledge and skills, improved confidence, improved patient care and career development.

"This is an incredible scheme - I am so fortunate to have access to HWQ bursaries. I have been able to upskill in a number of areas - where the training is only available in the city. I wouldn’t have been able to afford these trainings if it wasn’t for the bursary program. The support and development of rural health care workers through this program greatly eases the weight of being a rural generalist when access to training is made accessible and is funded." Speech Pathologist, Moranbah

Building on our relationships with practices and health professionals in rural and remote Queensland, we want to be able to use the scholarship program alongside the other tools in our toolbox to enable us to look after the workforce in remote and rural communities.

We work hard to get workforce into remote and rural areas, and we want to keep them there by supporting their professional development needs to maximise the impacts on them as a practitioner but also on their ability to remain in a rural area.

The HWSP is an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, Health Workforce Program, and is administered nationally by the consortium of Rural Workforce Agencies (RWAs). Health Workforce Queensland (HWQ) is the lead agency and is one of seven jurisdictional Rural Workforce Agencies (RWAs). With over 25 years of experience and expertise in rural health workforce issues, community engagement, data collection, and innovative health workforce models of care, we collectively use our extensive knowledge to address workforce challenges effectively.

For more information on the HWSP, or to apply, go to our website via the button below.

Health Workforce Scholarship Program