Value-adding to health professional student placement experiences: Enhancing work readiness and employability through a rural community engagement program


  • Karin Fisher University of Newcastle, Australia
  • Tony Smith University of Newcastle, Australia
  • Leanne Brown University of Newcastle, Australia
  • Luke Wakely University of Newcastle, Australia
  • Alex Little University of Newcastle, Australia
  • Katrina Wakely University of Newcastle, Australia
  • Judith Hudson University of Newcastle, Australia
  • Kelly Squires University of Newcastle, Australia



graduate attributes, rural health, undergraduate education, workforce, work integrated learning, professional placements


Enriching health professional students’ placement experiences through targeted community-engagement has the potential to help develop their preparedness to provide healthcare to the broader community. The program, developed in 2011, consisted of short, extracurricular community-engaged learning experiences integrated with the students’ professional placements. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the program was adding to the students’ rural health placement experiences based on perceptions of both the students themselves and UONDRH staff.

A mixed methods approach used a student survey (n = 96), which included both closed and open-ended questions, and semi-structured interviews with staff members involved in delivery of the community engagement program (n = 15). Data were explored together for intersections and commonalities. The overarching key concept was ‘Enhancing Work Readiness and Employability’. Both student and staff perceived that students’ participation in community engagement improved their employment prospects. Three themes that emerged from the data, which underpinned and supported the key concept. They were: ‘Expanding professional practice capabilities’; ‘Building confidence and showing motivation’ and ‘Better understanding the nature of rural practice’,  

The results of this study provide support to the notion that there was value for students in this form of short-term, community engagement activities, many of which could be readily integrated into existing health professional education programs with considerable benefits. . It would also lend itself to other non-health professional programs, such as law, journalism or business studies, as a means of broadening the students’ perspectives beyond the limits of their own professional horizons.


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Author Biographies

Karin Fisher, University of Newcastle, Australia

As Research Academic at the University of Newcastle, Department of Rural Health, Dr Fisher’s portfolio includes leading and co-leading on a number of research projects designed to enhance rural health education, workforce and the student experience.

Tony Smith, University of Newcastle, Australia

Department of Rural Health, University of Newcastle.

Leanne Brown, University of Newcastle, Australia

Department of Rural Health, University of Newcastle.

Luke Wakely, University of Newcastle, Australia

 Department of Rural Health, University of Newcastle.

Alex Little, University of Newcastle, Australia

Department of Rural Health, University of Newcastle.

Katrina Wakely, University of Newcastle, Australia

Department of Rural Health, University of Newcastle.

Judith Hudson, University of Newcastle, Australia

School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle.

Kelly Squires, University of Newcastle, Australia

Department of Rural Health, University of Newcastle.



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How to Cite

Fisher, K., Smith, T., Brown, L., Wakely, L., Little, A., Wakely, K., Hudson, J., & Squires, K. (2018). Value-adding to health professional student placement experiences: Enhancing work readiness and employability through a rural community engagement program. Journal of Teaching and Learning for Graduate Employability, 9(1), 41–61.