Strengthening the Rural Health Workforce: Service Learning Placements in Maryborough

Students undertaking placements with the Going Rural Health (GRH) program, of the Department of Rural Health, are making a significant impact in small rural communities.

Funded through the Commonwealth Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training program, Going Rural Health develops, supports and facilitates clinical placements across regional Victoria.

A key innovation of the program has been the development of Service Learning Placements targeted to meet the needs of local communities.

These placements are supported by the appointment of a team of experienced clinical specialist supervisors and educators, who work directly with the students and the local health service.

In 2017, Going Rural Health developed and implemented more than 100 Service Learning Placements, enhancing local health services and providing students with opportunities to develop:

  • Client engagement skills
  • Work readiness attributes
  • Quality assessment skills

Maryborough District Health Service (MDHS) Physiotherapy Services

Typically, small rural health services struggle with workforce retention, high turnover and a shortage of nursing and allied health professionals.

The Going Rural Health team worked with MDHS staff to develop Service Learning Placements for physiotherapy students.

Students implemented systems to reduce the waiting list from three years to less than six months, for some services, and developed and implemented appropriate interventions with pronounced benefits to clients.

The project involved five students for 10 weeks and client highlights included:

  • An elderly woman in aged care with cognitive impairment had not walked unaccompanied for six years. Through student assessment, she now walks independently, using an aid, from her room to the lounge
  • A male client with a history of lower back pain had been on a waiting list for a significant period of time. Students developed a tailored back pain management and strengthening program and from being unable to walk more than 10 m, he progressed to walking 100 m, and then up to a 1 km

MDHS staff enjoyed the collaboration:

“Clients at our service have enjoyed the extra attention and development projects the students, our organisation and the Going Rural Health team have collaborated on.”

“As a clinician, I am happy to be helping students learn practical skills in a practical environment, where they can learn independent critical thinking, self-reliance and how to ask for assistance or guidance.”

Student Feedback

The feedback on Service Learning Placements has been very positive, with physiotherapy and exercise physiology students finding the opportunity to apply their skills rewarding:

“The amount of independence given to me on this placement was fantastic and it allowed me to begin transitioning from a student to a graduate.”

“I always considered myself to be a very metropolitan-loving girl, however, working in a smaller hospital in a rural setting, where the dynamics of staff and patients is very different, really opened my eyes and I have even begun considering the option to work rurally once I graduate.”

Rurally experienced students get jobs

Placements in rural health areas offers students a rich learning opportunity, with exposure to a wide range of experiences and the chance to work with dedicated and skilled supervising staff.

Ongoing evaluation of rural placements has identified approximately 50% of students who complete a rural placement come back to practice rurally once qualified.

For more information contact Keryn Bolte, Student Placement Manager, +61 3 582 34 525 or +61 437 128 932 or

  • Students