David R HoggProfessional Profile
15 Jan 2016

Scotland’s GP Rural Fellowship: an initiative that has impacted on rural recruitment and retention

Context:  In Scotland 20% of the population live in a remote or rural area spread across 94% of the land mass that is defined as remote and rural. NHS Education for Scotland (NES), NHS Scotland’s training and education body, works in partnership with territorial health boards and medical schools to address rural recruitment and retention through a variety of initiatives. The longest established of these is the GP Rural Fellowship, which has been in place since 2002. This article describes this program and reports on a survey of the output of the Fellowship from 2002 to 2013.

The Rural Fellowship program:  The Fellowship is aimed at newly qualified GPs, who are offered a further year of training in and exposure to rural medicine. The Fellowship has grown and undergone several modifications since its inception. The current model involves co-funding arrangements between NES and participating boards, supporting a maximum of 12 fellows per year. The Health Boards’ investment in the Fellowship is returned through the service commitment that the Fellows provide, and the funding share from NES allows Fellows to have protected educational time to meet their educational needs in relation to rural medicine. Given this level of funding support it is important that the outcome of the Fellowship experience is understood, in particular its influence on recruitment to and retention in general practice in rural Scotland. To address this need a survey of all previous rural Fellows was undertaken in the first quarter of 2014, including all Fellows that had undertaken the Fellowship between 2002–03 and 2012–13. A total of 69 GPs were recruited to the Fellowship in this period, of which 66 were able to be included in the survey. There was a response rate of 98% to the survey and 63 of those that responded (97%) were working currently in general practice, 53 of whom were doing so in Scotland. A total of 46 graduates of the Fellowship in the period surveyed (71%) were working in rural areas or accessible small towns in Scotland, 39 in substantive general practice roles (60%).

Lessons learned: Scotland’s GP Rural Fellowship program represents a successful collaboration between education and service, and the results of the survey reported in this article underline previously unpublished data that suggest that approximately three-quarters of graduates are retained in important roles in rural Scotland. It is unclear however whether the Fellowship confirms a prior intention to work in rural practice, or whether it provides a new opportunity through protected exposure. This will form the basis of further evaluation.

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