The Government is committed to getting more doctors, nurses, and midwives working in rural New Zealand, says Health Minister Dr David Clark, despite dropping the idea of a school of rural medicine.

“It’s widely known and accepted that we face challenges attracting and retaining health professionals in some of our smaller communities,” Clark said.

“Working in rural health can be incredibly rewarding, but it is also demanding and can be isolating. We must do more to support rural health workers and make working in the regions a more attractive career choice.”

A School of Rural Medicine, suggested by Waikato University with support from Otago and Auckland Medical Schools, has been rejected as it would have cost up to a quarter of a billion dollars to set-up and operate.

The previous government had promised to set up the school to attract more doctors to the regions but Clark said merely training more doctors was not the answer.

Clark says the Ministry of Health plans to:

  • Change the training funding mix so more GP training places go to rural trainees
  • Spend more on professional development for rural primary health care nurses and midwives
  • Extend rural inter-professional education programmes
  • Improve the use of technology for professional rural support

“The Ministry of Health is also looking urgently at longer-term solutions and will work with rural communities, iwi, local government, educators, immigration and health professionals,” says Clark.

Minister for Rural Communities Damien O’Connor says a strong health workforce is vital for the wellbeing of rural communities.

“Rural New Zealand needs to know that health services will be there when they need them.”

Robin Steed, executive officer of the New Zealand Institute of Rural Health, a charitable trust that helps rural communities get the health services they need, says rural areas are away from where workers are trained and do not offer younger workers as much excitement that urban areas might.

“If you are able to recruit rural students into health science programmes, they are at least likely, and generally more likely to practice in rural areas,” she says.

This starts with schools, which is a crucial part career advisors and organisations like NZIRH play, to promote rural as a positive career.

“There’s a role here for educators and health to work together very closely,” Steed says.

Dedicated careers advisors are often good support and the institute helps them prepare rural students for healthcare careers.

University of Auckland third-year pharmacy student Celine Russenberger, grew up in rural Matamata, Waikato, and plans to return when she graduates.

Russenberger represented pharmacy students in the Grassroots Rural Health Club, a not-for-profit group based at the university that aims to give students rural experiences.

“It’s to inspire people to take a step out of Auckland and look at all the opportunities that are available,” Russenberger says.

“I enjoy the community feeling that comes with living in a rural community where everyone knows everyone.”

For most city kids, the health club trips were their first time in a rural environment.

Russenberger was one of the 2018 pharmacy representatives of Grassroots Rural Health Club, a not-for-profit a not-for-profit group based at the university that aims to give students rural experiences.

“It’s to inspire people to take a step out of Auckland and look at all the opportunities that are available,” Russenberger says.

“I enjoy the community feeling that comes with living in a rural community where everyone knows everyone,” Russenberger says.

Grassroots gives students rural experiences which, for most city kids it is their first time in a rural environment.

“It’s to inspire people to take a step out of Auckland and look at all the opportunities that are available.”

Steed says rural communities also need to work hard to create environments that support health professionals,  and believes the Government’s new measures will help.

“Give it a go. The world is your oyster.”

Steed says rural New Zealand is a desirable environment for young families.

“We don’t need a large amount of graduates to work rurally. We just need enough.”

Source: Yudu

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