Where are the nurses who will look after rural and remote when we are all gone?

Greta Webb1, David Schultz2,3

1Aspen Medical

2Rural LAP

3Healthcare Australia


• There is a significant worldwide challenge in recruiting and retaining skilled nurses. This is especially true for rural and remote health services, which continue to experience significant, ongoing nursing shortages.

What is happening?
• The current workforce is aging with nearly one third due to retire in the next ten years
• One third of all nurses who graduate leave the profession within 5 years
• Nurses working in rural and remote settings need higher levels of knowledge and skills to provide first line primary and emergency health care due to the scarcity of doctors in these settings. The knowledge and skills, and ability to use them under pressure takes significant time to develop.
• A move to part time work by many experienced nurses further exacerbates the shortage and ability to transfer skills
• Critical shortages of nurses leads to those in the workforce working extra hours/on call increasing their fatigue and thoughts of retirement (and increasing risks of serious errors)

It’s a scary feeling being the person who responds to an emergency when there is no MET team to call. All the hero nonsense goes out the window as you put your knowledge, skills and experience on the line. We need to be developing a workforce ready for the challenge.

• Some good things are happening to address this issue, e.g. students undertaking placements in rural and remote, courses specifically designed to teach the knowledge and skills needed.
• Governments need to research appropriate incentives to attract and retain rural and remote nurses, such as the Rural LAP scheme.
• Employers need to ensure they have systems in place to address the needs of staff e.g. workforce development plans and support to study
• We as individuals must be supportive of new employees (and relievers) so that they will want to stay and develop into our future workforce.


Greta Webb is a Registered Nurse proudly working for Aspen Medical as a member of their Rural Locum Assistance Program (Rural LAP), in rural hospitals and remote clinics.

Rural LAP is a part of the Australian Government-funded service that focuses on supporting health professionals, nursing and allied health, working in rural and remote settings. The Rural LAP team recruits highly skilled and experienced locums to enable those health professionals to attend educational requirements to maintain registration and update their skills, and to be able to obtain their hard earned leave.