By Anne Lipzker MAPS, Chair of the Taskforce and David Stokes MAPS, Manager, Professional Issues, APS National Office
The Rural and Distance Client Services Taskforce was appointed by the Professional Practice Advisory Group, an Advisory Group to the APS Board of Directors, at its first meeting this year. The Taskforce grew out of concern about the equitable provision of psychological services in rural areas with the introduction of the new Medicare initiative. Additionally, there was an acknowledgement of the need to support the special requirements of psychologists working in regional and rural areas.
The aims of the Taskforce are twofold: firstly, to document the current difficulties in the provision of adequate psychological services in rural areas and to develop solutions to address these; and secondly, to investigate the special needs of rural psychologists for general supervision, support and Professional Development (PD) in order to meet Registration Board, Medicare and APS College and general membership requirements.
Some of the preliminary ideas that the Taskforce is currently developing to support rural psychologists and to increase the rural psychology workforce and capacity are outlined below.
Possible options to assist the isolated rural professional to find opportunities for PD, networking and peer support include:
Networking among practitioners
Most rural practitioners require networks that provide access to divergent expertise that is needed either occasionally, consistently or only on a one-off occasion. These networks may not have fellow professional psychologists but may nonetheless include professionals in related areas such as health, education or the law. Such networks may be accessed by face-to-face, internet, teleconference or phone contact.
Access to expert consultation
A facility that would greatly assist rural practitioners is access to expert clinical advice. An APS-supported Expert Consultation Register could be made available on a national basis, as consultation does not have the same distance constraints as supervision. By its nature the contact would be one-off or occasional, with the emphasis on transmission of information.
Continuing Professional Development
The provision of high quality and accessible Professional Development has been a longstanding issue for rural and remote psychologists. This will be a major focus of a second Professional Practice Tasksforce that combines professional and PD interests. Electronic and web-based services are going to be of great assistance to these initiatives. Watch this space!
There is a clear need to attract and then retain more psychologists in rural areas. Some of the strategies outlined below have been used successfully for the medical workforce and should be considered to expand the psychology workforce in rural locations.
Alternative modes of delivery of psychological services in rural locations