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Regional nursing: what and where are the opportunities?

20 February 2017

A perennial health workforce issue, Australia’s supply and demand puzzle is a complex one to solve, particularly with respect to nurses. While Health Workforce Australia’s latest report points to a shortage of 85,000 nurses within less than two decades, many of today’s qualified nurses – particularly recent graduates – say it’s difficult to find work.

In metropolitan areas, in particular, the supply of nurses is meeting demand in the current labour market – hence the challenge for many in finding suitable employment. In regional Australia however, the picture is somewhat different, with demand already frequently outstripping supply. In fact, regional employers filled only 57 per cent of nursing vacancies in 2015/2016, compared to 80 per cent in metropolitan areas.

Why regional nursing?

Beyond the borders of our five major cities, regional areas offer nurses broader career opportunities and a different professional experience. A large number of regional hospitals provide a full range of clinical services, yet the pace may be less intense than that of a busy city hospital.

Many professionals report regional nursing to be an experience that exceeds their expectations. Meanwhile, regional communities – particularly those that are more rural and even remote – value nurses and strive to recruit and retain them, even offering salary and other incentives in some instances.

Where are the jobs in regional Australia?

As in any industry, competition for jobs varies. Employers in regional areas including the Wide-Bay Burnett, far north Queensland and New South Wales’ Central Coast say they struggle to fill advertised positions for registered and enrolled nurses. In fact, across NSW in 2015 to 2016, there was less than one suitable applicant on average for every nursing vacancy.

Many areas of regional Western Australia are desperate for nurses. Meanwhile, finding a job in regional South Australia can be more difficult, particularly given this state has the country’s highest ratio of nurses per head of population and, in 2015 to 2016, there were 3.2 suitable applicants per vacancy. The Department of Employment reports a shortage of midwives in regional areas. Aged care nurses are also much harder to recruit for in regional locations.

The importance of education and training

Higher education statistics show a 39.5 per cent lift in the number of students completing general nursing courses between 2009 and 2014.

So even as nursing shortages intensify, a rising pool of talent coming through the system means competition will remain for senior and leadership positions in particular. According to the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, there is already strong competition for speciality jobs including nurse managers in regional areas.

Higher qualifications improve your chances of not only securing employment, but landing a leadership role in a public or private setting. Moreover, graduates of higher nursing degrees earn more than their undergraduate-qualified peers. Graduates of the online Master of Healthcare Leadership from Southern Cross University, for example, earn almost $35,000 more, per year, than their undergraduate counterparts.

For more information about regional nursing careers, Southern Cross University’s online Master of Healthcare Leadership, or any other of our leading online health programs, speak to one of our expert Student Enrolment Advisors today on 1300 589 882.