ARHEN is the national association and peak body for the 19 University Departments of Rural Health (UDRH) located in rural and remote Australia.
Our purpose is to promote the health and wellbeing of people in rural and remote Australia by delivering high-quality health education, research and advocacy.
ARHEN was established in 2001 to provide a national voice and network for the UDRHs and to advocate on rural and remote health matters.
Our story starts though in 1996-7 when the Australian Government decided to establish six UDRHs to help build the rural and remote health workforce so as to improve the health and wellbeing of people living in these regions.
People in rural and remote communities experience poorer health across a range of measures, have shorter lifespans and experience greater difficulty in accessing appropriate health care services.
The Government’s intent in establishing the UDRHS was to create rurally-based academic centres to support the growth and development of a multidisciplinary rural health workforce to better address the health care needs of people in rural and remote locations.
From the start, the UDRHs had a strong focus on population health and improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as working in partnership with local health services and community-based organisations. The UDRHs were also tasked with growing the evidence base on rural and remote health, especially strategies to support the recruitment and retention of the health workforce.
Between 1996 and 2001, nine UDRHs were established around the country. (1)
1997 Broken Hill University Department of Rural Health
1997 Mt Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health (2)
1997 University of South Australia, University Department of Rural Health, Whyalla
1997 Centre for Rural Health, Launceston, Tasmania
1998 Centre for Remote Health, Alice Springs
1999 Western Australia Centre for Rural Health, Geraldton
1999 University Department of Rural Health, University of Melbourne, Shepparton, Victoria
1999 Greater Green Triangle University Department of Rural Health (3)
2001 University Centre for Rural health, Northern Rivers, New South Wales.
During this period, staff from across the UDRH network would meet to share learnings and collaborate on research and projects, as well as providing advice to the Australian Government and the Department of Health on rural and remote health issues.
In 2001, the then nine UDRHS decided to formally establish ARHEN to better support communication and collaboration across the network, as well as to enable regular engagement with the Australian Government, the Department of Health and other rural health stakeholders.
In the subsequent years, successive Australian Governments have continued to invest in the expansion of the UDRH network.
2002 University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health, Tamworth, New South Wales
2006 School of Rural Health, Monash University, Victoria
2016 Deakin Rural Health, Warrnambool, Victoria
2016 Flinders Rural Health, Renmark, South Australia
2017 Kimberley Rural Health Alliance, Broome, Western Australia (4)
2017 Southern Queensland Rural Health, Toowoomba, Queensland
2017 Three Rivers Department of Rural Health, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.
2019 La Trobe Rural Health School, Bendigo, Victoria
A 2020 evaluation found that UDRHs are having a positive impact in growing and supporting the rural health workforce, building the evidence base on rural and remote health, driving innovative teaching partnerships with local health and community services, and creating economic and social value in the regions.
In the 2020-21 Budget, the Australian Government announced funding to establish a new UDRH in Queensland.
2022 JCU Central QLD Centre for Rural & Remote Health
In the 2021-22 Budget, the Australian Government announced funding for two further UDRHs in Western Australia.
2023 Department of Rural Health, Curtin University
2023 Department of Rural Health, Edith Cowan University
(1) For a comprehensive history see Two decades of building capacity in rural health education, training and research in Australia: University Departments of Rural Health and Rural Clinical Schools by David Lyle and Jennene Greenhill, Australian Journal of Rural Health (2018) 26, 314-322.
(2) Now known as the JCU Murtupuni Centre for Rural and Remote Health
(3) The Greater Green UDRH was restructured in 2016 to become Deakin Rural Health and Flinders Rural Health, SA.
(4) Now known as the Marjalin Kimberley Centre for Remote Health
ARHEN is a company limited by guarantee and operates on a not for profit basis.