Allied Health Professionals working in remote or rural communities may find themselves as the only provider (sole practitioner) of services from their discipline in that geographic area.
By definition, sole practitioners work independently. They are required to exercise independent professional judgment without ready face to face access to other Allied Health Professionals within the same discipline, and miss out on the much of the informal consultation, assistance, advice and networking available inherent to workplaces with larger teams.
Service provision for the sole practitioner in remote and rural settings often extends beyond the area of discipline specific skills and expertise into areas of community participation, health promotion and health education. See the SG page for more information. While this is often the case in remote and rural practice more broadly, it tends to be more pronounced in a sole practice setting.
In sole practice, service provision will often take place in multiple settings. This includes not only the practice site (e.g. one or a mixture of private practice, community health centres, rural hospital, outpatient clinics, GP practice), but also local schools, aged care centres, industry and commercial settings and in client homes.
Sole practitioners in remote and rural settings need the ability to:
- Be able to understand and interpret community needs and have the initiative to be able to meet those needs, often in the absence of formalised support.
- Work unsupervised and independently.
- Work as part of a multidisciplinary team, often with team members widely dispersed and working in other geographic regions (See Team Practice).
- Develop multidisciplinary skills in other disciplines where there are no other Allied Health Professionals accessible by the client.
- Within your Scope of Practice, develop skills in the use of information and communication technology to facilitate multidisciplinary team care and to access professional and peer support.
- Build multidisciplinary networks to provide professional support outside normal working environment (e.g. access to specialist skills in your own discipline, access to skills in other professions, mentoring and peer support). Refer to the Networking and Mentoring pages for more information.
- Develop high level communication and interpretive skills.
- Build skills in working in cross-cultural environment.
- Sole practitioners in remote and rural settings will need to develop strong professional skills, such as Confidentiality & Professional Boundaries, as well as Leadership & Management, as they are often responsible for the management of their department. Line management for the position will often be the responsibility of a health profession from another discipline (nursing or medical, non-health professional, or occasionally another allied health profession) with potentially limited understanding of the skills and competencies held by the sole practitioner. The potentially rocky path of a sole practitioner can be made easier with appropriate management support.
- Develop skills in counselling, applied research, primary and public health care.
- Manage stress, prioritise workload and manage time.
Benefits of Sole Practice
For the sole practitioner the ability to be alone in the analysis, planning, submission, preparation, implementation and evaluation of development in their specific services can be both a challenge and a reward.
The achievement of advanced skills levels across a range of clinical and non-clinical areas is rewarding. Remote and rural sole practitioners may be on a higher pay scale within state awards. Check with the relevant jurisdiction if this applies to you.
Sole allied health practitioners in remote and rural communities holds a privileged position in remote and small rural communities. You will be called on to be involved in community activities unrelated to your particular discipline skills. Whilst issues relating to confidentiality, defining boundaries between professional, social and family life in small communities, time management can increase stress levels, the rewards for becoming a community advocate, holding a position of privilege and making a contribution to building community capacity cannot be underestimated.
Sole Practice & You
Think about your practice in a remote or rural setting:
- Are you working as a sole practitioner, the only practitioner in your discipline in your geographic area?
- What professional, peer and social support networks have you built? Do you need to further develop these networks?
- Are your required to undertake roles beyond that of your particular discipline skills? (e.g. management (including budgeting), community capacity building, community needs analysis, teaching and training, research, marketing)? Do you have the appropriate training and do you feel competent and confident in undertaking these roles?
- Where can you go to obtain additional training in the skills that you have identified you need for your role?