Context counts: training health workers in and for rural and remote areas
Roger Strasser & Andre-Jacques Neusy
Access to well trained and motivated health workers is the major rural health issue. Without local access, it is unlikely that people in rural and remote communities will be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Studies in many countries have shown that the three factors most strongly associated with entering rural practice are: (i) a rural background; (ii) positive clinical and educational experiences in rural settings as part of undergraduate medical education; and (iii) targeted training for rural practice at the postgraduate level. This paper presents evidence for policy initiatives involving the training of medical students from, in and for rural and remote areas. We give examples of medical schools in different regions of the world that are using an evidence-based and context-driven educational approach to producing skilled and motivated health workers. We demonstrate how context influences the design and implementation of different rural education programmes. Successful programmes have overcome major obstacles including negative assumptions and attitudes, and limitations of human, physical, educational and financial resources. Training rural health workers in the rural setting is likely to result in greatly improved recruitment and retention of skilled health-care providers in rural underserved areas with consequent improvement in access to health care for the local communities.