Early career nurses’ self-reported influences and drawbacks for undertaking a rural graduate nursing program

Elyce Green, Claire Ellen Seaman, Rebecca Barry, Jayne Lawrence, Annie Skipworth, Melissa Sinclair

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Objective: To identify self-reported influences and drawbacks for early career nurses to work in a rural location. Background: The international shortage of rural nursing workforce is increasing. As a result, evidence that focuses on mechanisms to recruit early career nurses to these areas is important. This research focuses on the influences and drawbacks for early career nurses to undertake a rural graduate nursing program, aimed at providing evidence that can inform the design of rural nurse recruitment programs. Study design and methods: Manifest content analysis of open-ended questions in a cross-sectional survey that was administered in two rural Local Health Districts (LHDs) in New South Wales, Australia. Early career nurses commencing employment in either of the research locations in 2019 and 2020 were eligible to complete the survey. In two open-text questions, respondents were asked to respectively describe what the most influential factor was in their decision to commence employment in their location, and what were the drawbacks of this location, if any. Results: Of the 175 early career nurses invited to complete the survey, 165 (94.29%) returned a completed survey. Four themes were identified as influencing rural early career nurse employment; proximity to social and/or familial ties, being attracted to rural clinical practice, taking advantage of a job offer in a limited market, and wanting a rural lifestyle. Where drawbacks were described, themes referred to distance from social and/or familial ties, rural lifestyle factors, resource challenges, and a perception of less professional opportunity. Discussion: There may be an opportunity to attract and retain rural nurses through targeted social initiatives and creating community ties, particularly among those early career nurses who have no close friends and family nearby. This reflects other literature and the growing understanding of the importance of social connection, familial ties and life course in early career nurse decision making. Conclusion: The results of this research demonstrate that proximity to social and/or familial ties is both the biggest influence and drawback for early career nurses to accept employment in a rural location. Implications for research, policy, and practice: Strategies that capitalise on practical ways to integrate social connection and life course approaches in early career nurse onboarding in rural areas should be explored in future research with a view to creating guidance for rural health organisations and policy makers. What is already known about the topic? • Australia is facing a significant and growing deficit in the number of nurses choosing to practice rurally. • Rural origin and rural placements influence rural practice intention. • Early career nurse programs are an initiative aimed to support the transition of nurses into practice from undergraduate study and can act as a pathway for nurses to enter rural careers. What this paper adds: • Family and social ties are the most influential reasons for choosing a rural location for early career nurses. • Commensurate with this is the greatest drawback for choosing a rural location for early career employment was being away from family and/or friends. • Future research should explore practical strategies that capitalise on the importance of social connections, familial ties, and life course for rural nurse career decisions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2024.411.1225
JournalAustralian Journal of Advanced Nursing
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


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