Capacity building in rural research: A Canadian perspective

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Kulig, Judith Celene
Minroe, Bruce
Stewart, Norma
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Rural and Remote Health
Introduction: The need to build capacity in rural health research is recognized in Canada. During its formative stage, the Canadian Rural Health Research Society (established in 2002), performed a nation-wide survey of the research teaching and training opportunities available to students interested in rural and remote health issues. Intended as a cross-sectional ‘snapshot,’ and to provide base-line data, the survey involved a comprehensive list of educational programs in health and science disciplines at all Canadian Universities offering graduate-level programs. The present project report gives an overview of the results, documenting the current strengths, but also the noticeable gaps that exist. Methods: Data were collected via an Internet survey, developed according to Dillman’s email survey design principles. Although multiple contacts are recommended, due to time constraints only two were made. The instrument included both open- and closed-ended questions designed to determine institutional commitments to rural health research training generally, as well as specific information about course offerings, infrastructure supports for students, financial assistance for studying specific topics, and future plans. Health was defined broadly and included a number of disciplines beyond those usually considered under the health rubric. Individuals in administrative positions for 462 programs in 24 distinct disciplines at 56 institutions were sent the survey. Responses were received from 120 programs at 40 universities. Due to budget constraints the instrument was not translated into French. Descriptive statistics were used to analyse the data, combined with a thematic analysis of written comments. Ethical approval was obtained from the Lakehead University before the study was conducted. Results: Despite the fact that one-third of Canadians live in rural, remote and northern areas, there is a paucity of research that addresses rural health issues. Moreover, Canadian universities have very limited rural health offerings in their curricula. There are few formal courses available on rural health topics generally or rural health research specifically. Although students can take rural-related independent studies or reading courses, very few actually take advantage of the option. Of all disciplines, nursing faculty are most likely to pursue rural health research and to offer rural health courses. Moreover, nursing faculty most often indicate an intention to expand their rural health offerings. In the social sciences, geography and environmental science programs, relatively few students choose to study rural health. Similarly, in medicine, the number of students exploring rural health issues is small. There is some specific financial assistance available to students who are interested in rural health research and, as well, they have access to general pools of funding. Conclusion: The survey results demonstrate the limitations of current educational programs. However, they also indicate areas of potential growth and show widespread interest in increasing the offerings available at universities across Canada. The article concludes by giving an overview of the mandate and initiatives being taken by the new research society to augment training, and to enhance student participation. In addition, it notes the positive developments linked to a new Strategic Plan by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to enhance rural health research in Canada.
Canada , capacity building , research training , rural curricula
Kulig, J., Minore, B. & Stewart, N. (2004). Capacity building in rural health research: A Canadian perspective. Rural & Remote Health, 4 (online), 274.