Aspire2Health and COVID-19: the impact of the pandemic on outcomes from an outreach program to increase high school student interest in rural health careers

Article


MacAskill, William, Fallon, Anthony Bruce, Cotter, Nicola and Purea, Paul. 2023. "Aspire2Health and COVID-19: the impact of the pandemic on outcomes from an outreach program to increase high school student interest in rural health careers." Rural and Remote Health. 23 (3).
Article Title

Aspire2Health and COVID-19: the impact of the pandemic on outcomes from an outreach program to increase high school student interest in rural health careers

ERA Journal ID13681
Article CategoryArticle
AuthorsMacAskill, William, Fallon, Anthony Bruce, Cotter, Nicola and Purea, Paul
Journal TitleRural and Remote Health
Journal Citation23 (3)
Article Number8007
Number of Pages9
Year2023
PublisherJames Cook University
Place of PublicationAustralia
ISSN1445-6354
Web Address (URL)https://www.rrh.org.au/journal/article/8007
Abstract

Introduction: Rural health career outreach programs promote health careers to secondary school students and aim to address rural health workforce shortages. This study analyses student feedback data from Aspire2Health, a multidisciplinary rural health career outreach program conducted in Queensland Australia before COVID in 2019, and during COVID lockdown and isolation periods during 2020–2021. The study aims were to assess the suitability of the program and its elements, the program’s short-term impact on students’ interest in health careers and whether COVID restrictions on program delivery affected students’ program experience and outcomes.
Methods: We conducted statistical and semantic analysis of data collected pre- and peri-COVID from participating secondary school students living in regional, rural and remote Australian communities. Data validity was established by triangulating quantitative results from items using a five-point Likert scales, qualitative themes from short-response items and frequency analysis of themes. Data were collected pre-COVID (2019, n=125) and peri-COVID (2020–21, n=248).
Results: Student responses to the program remained extremely positive despite COVID-imposed restrictions. Feedback scores indicated quite strong agreement in pre- and peri-COVID periods that the program motivated students to pursue a career in health (mean (M)=4.6 pre-COVID v M=4.5 peri-COVID) and that students would recommend the program to a friend (M=4.8 pre-COVID v M=4.7 peri-COVID). Overall ratings of the event were high, although a drop occurred during the peri-COVID period (M=4.8 pre-COVID v M=4.7 peri-COVID; p=0.043). Activity interest rankings indicated that, irrespective of the pandemic, clinical skills sessions, meeting health professionals and watching the emergency scenario were more interesting to students than ambulance and hospital tours (p<0.001). Four themes were generated from analysing qualitative data. In response to the item ‘What did you enjoy the most?’ the themes were ‘clinical skills’ (n=203, 55% of respondents) and ‘interacting with professionals’ (n=146, 39% of respondents). Responses to ‘Is there anything we could do differently?’ produced the themes ‘no changes required’ (n=158, 58% of respondents) and ‘variety and duration’ (n=40, 11% of respondents). ‘Variety and duration’ described students’ desire for more variety, more professionals and more time to engage in activities. The themes and their frequency among student responses indicate strong support for the validity of the results.
Conclusion: This study found that the Aspire2Heath program continued to motivate rural students to pursue health careers during the COVID-19 pandemic and that student interest is greatest during activities with hands-on clinical skills and student–professional interactions. These results suggests that rural health career outreach programs can be run under challenging social circumstances with confidence that students can be successfully encouraged to pursue health careers. Furthermore, program design should emphasise hands-on clinical skills and interactions with professions. These findings have practical implications for rural health career outreach programs, particularly those faced with restricted financing or external circumstances that limit their access to external healthcare resources.

Keywordscareer; secondary school; program evaluation; profession; outreach; high school; health workforce; Australia
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020420301. Aged health care
Public Notes

File reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher/author.

Byline AffiliationsGriffith University
Centre for Health Research
University of Queensland
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