The number of domestic undergraduate health students choosing to complete a year of their clinical placements and studies in rural towns such as Taree and Port Macquarie has risen.
This is according to University of Newcastle (UON), which said the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to international and interstate travel but it hasn't impacted on student enthusiasm to explore their own backyard.
Rural health department director, Professor Jenny May, was thrilled to see more undergraduate students recognise the immense value of rural placements for their studies and careers.
"We 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," Professor May said.
"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."
The university rural health department offers a year long rural immersion program in physiotherapy, occupational therapy, nutrition and dietetics and medical radiation science.
The program continued through the pandemic with extra precautions such as online group learning and social distancing.
In recent years, physiotherapy had the greatest spike in numbers. Just five students completed the program in 2017 while 27 students have expressed interest for 2021. This is about 30 per cent of the entire physiotherapy cohort at the university.
Not only are more physiotherapy students studying in rural areas, more are choosing to stay.
UON's Dr Luke Wakely said about 60 per cent of physiotherapy year long students work rurally at some point in their careers. This is compared to about 20 per cent of most Australian physiotherapy graduates.
"We're now seeing our year long physiotherapy graduates providing rural placements for our students in communities such as Tamworth, Taree and Port Macquarie, which has helped to grow the program further through increased placement capacity," Dr Wakely said.
The university also provides access to its bachelor of midwifery program at Taree's Manning Education Centre. This enables students to live, study and work in the community and still access world class simulation laboratories and facilities.
Other benefits include small class sizes and experience working with diverse community groups such as Indigenous women and babies.
UON's school of nursing and midwifery lecturer Dr Namira Williams said undertaking the degree in the local area benefits both the student midwives and the community.
"Students become familiar with local referral processes and make strong connections that can only improve services for mothers, babies and families here locally," Dr Williams said.
Graduate Heather Wallace completed the midwifery degree in Taree last year and now lives and works in the area.
"It is such a rewarding feeling to be able to build rapport through continuity of care, support women through subsequent pregnancies, and be remembered by the family," she said.
"It makes the experience very memorable and is something I think would be missed in the hustle and bustle working in more urban tertiary hospitals."