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Spotlight on boosting regional, rural and remote medical research

As the song goes, from little things big things grow, and that’s definitely been the experience for University of Southern Queensland academic Associate Professor of Nursing, Dr Sonya Osborne.

With almost 30 years professional nursing experience across clinical and academic settings, Dr Osborne is a keen advocate for advancing health care options and sustainable evidence-based practice outside of metropolitan areas.

Her current research program focus is on implementation and evaluation studies in acute, primary and integrated care services across regional communities and building capacity in evidence synthesis and translation.

In late 2019, she attended the inaugural Spinifex Symposium as one of fifty health and medical research leaders from across Australia, to take part in discussions about building an alliance that could improve the health of regional, rural and remote Australians through research efforts.

“The Spinifex Network was formed soon after, and we went about forming some immediate, achievable action items, which included commissioning rapid research reviews that could highlight gaps in regional, rural and remote healthcare,” Associate Professor Osborne said.

“We formed a subcommittee for the rapid review initiative which I chaired, and this week we had six articles packaged into a supplement and published in the Medical Journal of Australia,” she said.

“The whole aim of the process was to provide these rapid reviews to government in a timely manner, and also ensure that key issues were evident to other key decision makers, such as the newly appointed National Rural Health Commissioner, Professor Ruth Stewart.”

Articles published recently focus on the long-term mental health impacts of natural disasters on adults and children; recruiting and retaining a rural health workforce; the challenges of opioid dependence in rural settings; and food security in regional Australia.

Associate Professor Osborne said that the University of Southern Queensland is well placed to promote and conduct health and medical research in the regions in which it operates and, as a financial partner in the Network, would benefit from the wide reach and engagement with research collaborators across Australia.

“The value of place-based research, especially when it comes to health and wellbeing, cannot be overstated,” she said.

“Medical and healthcare research that is driven by researchers who are living in, and have experience in, rural communities are in touch with the issues that need addressing in a way colleagues in metropolitan areas might not be.

“Through the Ss Network our UniSQ researchers have an incredible opportunity to collaborate and co-design research with other like-minded academics and practitioners with similar experiences, and to partner with organisations and communities. This will help to improve the uptake of health options in our own backyard.

“This work is all about increased access and equity for regional, rural and remote Australians and it has been a very rewarding experience to see so much innovation and drive produced from one meeting one year ago.”

National collaboration puts spotlight on boosting regional, rural and remote medical research