Making it Real – student education in rural allied health disability services

Julie Cullenward1, Justine Summers1

1Marathon Health, NSW, Australia

Providing allied health services to National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants, including those with intellectual disability, in rural and remote regions has created new challenges for providers. One service provider has developed and piloted an innovative model of student placements for Occupational Therapy (OT) and Speech Pathology (SP) students to experience working in regional NSW.

In response to the need to create and maintain a skilled workforce in rural and remote NSW, an allied health student education program was developed including strategic partnerships with key universities. This presentation will outline the steps taken to develop the program within the disability services delivered by the organisation. Central to the approach is a focus on ‘keeping it real’, ensuring students have practical learning experiences based on person centred practice and community outreach. Learnings are being collated and evaluated within a rapidly changing environment.


  • Student numbers have increased
  • Increase in student awareness of challenges and options for service delivery in rural and remote areas in the disability sector
  • Increase student knowledge of disability, including intellectual disability
  • Strategic partnerships have been developed
  • Creative thinking leading to innovative funding models
  • Previously resistant staff now have a positive attitude to student placements
  • Resource development
  • Student feedback evaluation
  • Successful transition from student to allied health practitioner in the region

Student education experiences based on ‘real’ practical frontline experience in rural placements in the disability sector can lead to positive outcomes. This includes building capacity in the rural allied health workforce through recruitment and increased knowledge of working rurally.


Julie is an Occupational Therapist with extensive experience in frontline, senior and state consultancy roles with a focus on rural and remote. Julie has over 25 years’ experience working as an OT in the disability sector. She is passionate about continuous improvement, promoting evidence-based practice and innovative service delivery models rural and remote regions.

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