A recently published paper shows that boosting self-efficacy - defined by psychologist Albert Bandura as “one's belief in one's ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task” - can reduce the impact of social isolation experienced by one-third of students undertaking rural placements.

The subjective feeling of social isolation can be defined as a sense of not belonging to a community or geographical area. Studies suggest that perceived social isolation contributes to depressive thoughts and/or distress, and renders medical students less likely to pursue a rural career after graduation.

However, social isolation can be addressed through enhancing the attribute Bandura said plays “a major role in how one approaches goals, tasks, and challenges.”

The paper, Self-efficacy reduces the impact of social isolation on medical student’s rural career intent, was authored by Vivian Isaac (Flinders Rural Health), Sabrina Winona Pit (University Centre for Rural Health North Coast and Craig S. McLachlan (Rural Clinical School UNSW), and published in BMC Medical Education BMC series 

“Social isolation in medical students… may influence medical career decision making,” the authors noted, based on their investigation of the career intent of 644 medical students attending rural clinical schools.

Having concluded that 31.3% of surveyed students self-reported feeling socially isolated during their rural placement they focused on gauging whether self-efficacy can influence their view on pursuing a career in rural-based medicine.

They found that self-efficacy reflects how students feel they can or cannot be a successful rural medical practitioner, and that the attainment of high levels of rural clinical self-efficacy – “a relatively new construct” - reduces the effects of social isolation.

“Our initial findings could also assist policy makers in developing rural workforce strategies that both identify and reduce subjective social isolation for rural medical students,” the researchers said.

“We note that social isolation in one individual can affect other individuals in a group via negative emotions such as loneliness and hence there is benefit to reduce negative outcomes via contagion.”