Original articles

Influences on the choice of health professionals to practice in rural areas

Ian Couper, Jannie Hugo, Hoffie Conradie, Khaya Mfenyana


Training health care professionals (HCPs) to work in rural areas is a challenge for educationalists. The aim of this study was to understand how HCPs choose to work in rural areas and how education influences this.

Qualitative individual interviews with 15 HCPs working in rural areas in SA

Themes identified included personal, facilitating, contextual, staying and reinforcing factors. Personal attributes of the HCPs, namely rural origin and/or their value system, determine consideration of rural practice. The decision to “go rural” is facilitated by exposure to rural practice during training, an understanding of rural needs and exposure to rural role models.

Once practising in a rural area, the context and nature of work and the environment influence retention. This is supported by the role of family and friends, ongoing training and development, and the style of health service management. Personal motivation is reinforced by a positive relationship with the community, and by being an advocate and role model for the local community. Educational factors were often felt to work against practising in rural areas.

The results show the complexity of the interaction between a large number of factors working together to make HCP choose to go and stay in rural areas. Factors other than educational seem more important. A comprehensive approach is needed to attract and retain HCPs in rural areas. Issues for educationalists to address include helping rural origin students to connect with their own values and communities.

Authors' affiliations

Ian Couper,

Jannie Hugo,

Hoffie Conradie,

Khaya Mfenyana,

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rural practice; education; health care professionals; human resoruces; retention; career choice

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2007;97(11):1082.

Article History

Date submitted: 2007-05-12
Date published: 2007-11-22

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