Healthcare News

High school students help to fill healthcare gaps as rural hospital battles staff shortages

A rural hospital in northern Victoria is trying something different to try to attract young workers and fill staff shortages.

Boort District Health Service has started hiring local high school students for after-school shifts.

The junior staff work in the hospital cafe, serve food to aged care residents, work in reception, and help with maintenance and cleaning.

They can also assist nurses and allied health workers on the wards.

Recent high school graduate Macy Grogan wants to be an occupational therapist after working at the hospital. 

“I’ve always wanted to help people. Working here I’ve realised I definitely do want to follow down that path,” she said.

Ms Grogan worked at the hospital while completing year 12.(ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

She also wants to come back and work in Boort, a trend the town hopes to see more of. 

“I’ll definitely work somewhere like Boort. I think community is so important,” she said.

“I’ve grown up in such a strong, tight-knit community. So I’ve really seen the potential that we have. So I’ll definitely come back to work and help improve our communities.”

A nurses teaching another how to do a blood test
The health service is currently looking for five nurses.(ABC Central Victoria: Tyrone Dalton)

Hopes for ‘homegrown’ workers

CEO Donna Doyle said the shifts had proved so popular, the health service has extended it and employed more, with some working longer shifts over the school holidays. 

“It started with three or four students; now we have 12,” she said.

“We had a COVID outbreak in the lead-up to Christmas, which was really devastating. But the junior staff were able to come in and fill a gap, they delivered meals to rooms.”

Battling ongoing staff shortages, Boort District Health has had five full-time nurse positions to fill for more than a year. 

A woman smiling looking at camera, standing in office
Donna Doyle says staff love working at Boort hospital. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

It has hired one nurse from the UK since the borders reopened, but is still looking for alternatives to find healthcare workers who want to work in the rural town.

“Workforce is an ongoing issue, recruitment and retention is an ongoing issue,” Ms Doyle said.

Ms Doyle said the school shifts had inspired local young people to pursue a career in healthcare and come back to work in their home town. 

“We’re trying to tap into local people who we know may have grown up here, have gone to high school here, and are now at uni.”

“It might just give them an idea that it’s a great place to work or there are great career opportunities.”

Someone making coffee, with an employee waiting in the background
Alec Velleley has found his calling as a barista, since working in the hospital cafe.(ABC Central Victoria: Tyrone Dalton)

Student finds calling

Before he started working at the hospital, Alec Velleley had no idea what he wanted to do for work. 

“I didn’t exactly have a plan when I started working here,” he said. 

“I had never considered working as a barista, so it’s opened that doorway.”

Now, hospital staff refer to him as the best barista in town. 

“I’ve learnt how to make a coffee and I’ve learnt people skills. Working in a small community is fun,” he said. 

A photo of a student working in a kitchen
Ms Grogan is going to study occupational therapy in Melbourne this year.(ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

For aspiring occupational therapist Macy Grogan, she had learnt important, practical skills in other parts of the hospital, including with the allied health workers in the hospital. 

“I mostly work in aged care, sometimes in acute, but I’ve also done laundry, the kitchen, and other things,” Ms Grogan said. 

“There are lots of opportunities to get a taste of every sort of job here. You can do a bit of nursing, work in the kitchen, reception.”  

Watching her mum works as an allied health assistant at the hospital had not deterred her from choosing a career in healthcare, or working in a small town. 

“I’ve grown up around people who help people. I’ve learned from what Mum does, always helping out with little jobs,” she said.

“I’ve seen every part of it — having little or no staff. I think it’s important people get out to these communities.”

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