Perceptions of and attitudes to the compulsory community service programme for therapists in KwaZulu-Natal, 2005.
Khan, Nasim Banu.
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Compulsory community service programmes have been initiated in many countries to recruit health care professionals to provide services in rural and under-served areas. However, the success or failure of the Community Service Programme depends largely on the attitudes of the professionals, their understanding of the programme's objectives, their preparedness for working in these areas and their ability to adapt to a new and challenging experience. Aim The aim ofthis study was to assess therapist's perceptions and attitudes about the compulsory Community Service Programme in KwaZulu-Natal in 2005 and to assess whether these changed during the year. Methods An observational cross sectional study with a descriptive and analytic component was conducted on commencement and after completion of community service. The therapists completed a self-administered questionnaire before and after their community service. Results A total of 126 (89% of 142) therapists responded to the initial questionnaire, 59 (42%) completed the exit questionnaire of which 47 (33%) completed both the questionnaire at commencement and completion of community service. Despite the poor response rate, similarities in perceptions and attitudes were noted with other studies conducted nationally and internationally. At onset 50% indicated that they would work in the public sector in the future and this proportion declined to 35% by exit. Even fewer (24%) said they would work in a rural area in the future. Only 16% reported that they would stay on at the same institution the year after community service. There was also no significant association between therapists collecting a rural allowance and expressing an interest to work in a rural area in the future (p=0.78) or staying at the same institution in the years after community service (p=0.32). However, therapists working in urban areas were more likely to say they would work in a rural area in the future (p=0.018). The comparisons between the occupational catergories showed that for support and supervision, the Speech Therapy and Audiology Forum was considered significantly (p=O.OOI) supportive compared to the Physiotherapy Forum. There was no significant difference within the occupational catergories in their perceptions of support, mentoring and supervision, attitude, psychological coping, personal and professional gains, safety issues and the amount of community outreach conducted. All groups were similarly resource constrained. Language was a barrier for 50% of all community service therapists and impeded their professional functioning. Discussion Despite the challenges experienced by community service therapists the majority felt that they had made a difference in the community in which they have been placed. The obligation to work in rural and under-served areas was personally and professionally rewarding. Particular concerns centred on support, supervision, training, resources and language barriers in providing better service delivery. Recommendations To achieve its objectives in relation to compulsory community service, which is to ensure an improved provision of health services to all citizens ofthe country, the Department ofHealth should consider multiple strategies including financial incentives such as rural allowances and non-financial incentives to retain health care personnel in rural and under-served areas. A long-term strategy that addresses human resources in a comprehensive manner needs to be developed to improve staffing and quality health services in these areas.