Growing numbers of health students choose to “go rural” in 2021

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

The University of Newcastle’s Department of Rural Health has seen a significant jump in the number of allied health students choosing to go rural in 2021, showing the increasing popularity of rural locations among domestic undergraduate students.

Health students go rural with the Department of Rural Health

The Department of Rural Health recently opened expressions of interest for their Year-long Rural Immersion Program, which gives occupational therapy, nutrition and dietetics, medical radiation science and physiotherapy students the opportunity to live, study and undertake clinical placements while predominately based in a rural NSW location for the year.

More than 70 University of Newcastle students have already put their hand up for the program in 2021, including around 36% of the physiotherapy fourth-year cohort.

The trend has also been seen across multi-week rural placements, which give allied health, nursing and medicine students a taste for rural practice.

Alisha, a University of Newcastle Nutrition and Dietetics student, says she’s excited about the possibility of going to Tamworth in 2021 and “getting out of her comfort zone”.

“I have a huge passion for rural health,” shares Alisha, who applied for the year-long program.

“I think working rurally will give me a wider variety of experiences of different health issues within a short amount of time. I’m also really keen to meet like-minded people and live in a new area!”

Stephanie, a University of Newcastle Occupational Therapy student, has her heart set on Coffs Harbour for 2021. She says the idea of living with other students, and experiencing life away from home, was a huge drawcard prompting her decision to apply.

“The idea of living in a new place with new people is appealing to me,” explains Stephanie, who also applied for the year-long program.

“I see this as a great learning opportunity, working alongside other health and medicine students, and a very fun experience. I believe health professionals in rural areas have a lot of knowledge and experience to offer. From what I’ve heard from past students, this program is very rewarding.”

The year-long program is only available to University of Newcastle students from nutrition and dietetics, medical radiation science, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. However, the Department provides placement and accommodation support for allied health, nursing and medicine students from all universities who wish to undertake a rural placement within the Department’s geographical footprint.

Department Director Professor Jenny May is thrilled to see more undergraduate students recognising the immense value of rural placements for their studies and careers.

“Rural placements are an invaluable experience that set students up well for their future health careers,” says Professor May.

“We also want students to experience the pluses of rural life, in magnificent rural centres, and consider the excellent career and lifestyle opportunities that are available outside of metropolitan areas.”

“It’s our hope that more students will discover the benefits of living and working in our NSW rural communities, where they can invest in the future of healthcare for diverse populations.”

While COVID-19 has kept many students at home during 2020, it hasn’t quelled enthusiasm for safely exploring the beautiful NSW communities that exist in our own backyard. The Department of Rural Health upholds strict hygiene measures across all its placement sites, and is using online learning when needed, to protect student and staff safety.

For further information about multi-week rural placements or the year-long program, please contact the University of Newcastle’s Department of Rural Health at

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.