Objective: To assess the research contribution of eleven University Departments of Rural Health (UDRH) which were established as a rural health workforce program in the late 1990s through analysis of peer-reviewed journal output.
Design and settings: Descriptive study based on validated publications from publication output reported in annual key performance indicator (KPI) reports to the Commonwealth Department of Health, Australia.
Main outcome measures: In addition to counts and the type of publications, articles were examined to assess fields of research, evidence of research collaboration, and potential for influencing policy. Funding acknowledgement was examined to provide insight into funding sources and research consultancies.
Results: Of the 182 peer-reviewed articles, UDRH staff members were the first and corresponding author for 45% (n=82); most (69%, n=126) were original research. Most publications examined included Australian data only (80%, n=101). Over half (56%; n=102) of the articles addressed rural health issues; Aboriginal health was the main subject in 14% (n=26). Thirty-three articles (18%) discussed the policy implications of the research and only half (51%, n=93) of the articles listed sources of funding. Number of authors per article ranged from 1-19, with a mean of 5 (SD=3.2) authors per article, two-thirds of articles included authors from 2-5 universities/organisations but only 5% of articles included an author from more than one UDRH.
Conclusions: Staff from UDRHs are regularly publishing peer-reviewed articles, and research productivity demonstrated cooperation with external partners. Better collaboration between UDRH staff and others may help increase the quality and value of Australian rural health research.