A growing number of University of Auckland medical students were spending a year immersed in a regional community, experiencing its unique health issues, challenges and how its hospitals worked, medical programme leader Professor Warwick Bagg said. The next step was to increase student placements in rural GP practices.

“The university is significantly expanding its infrastructure and staffing in regional hospitals, which will make it easier for students to spend time in smaller towns,” Professor Bagg said. “We know that training our future doctors for longitudinal periods in rural practices and small rural hospitals will enhance the likelihood of graduates choosing to work in those areas, so we have placed a high priority on this.” This year a record 256 medical students completed year-long study placements in regional hospitals. Next year more than 280 students would be placed with a regional DHB in the northern North Island. The biggest challenge was finding GPs who had the physical space and availability to supervise students, but the university was ideally placed to expand the programme to include more rural GPs, and increase the numbers of highly-trained medical graduates who wanted to work in regional and rural New Zealand.

Most of the university’s investment in medical staffing over the last five to eight years had been outside Auckland, and clinical sites in Whangarei, Tauranga, Rotorua and Taranaki hospitals, and rural training hubs in Whakatane and Northland, had been expanded significantly. The university had also worked closely with local communities, DHBs and iwi to create meaningful learning opportunities in regional and rural health.

Head of the Bay of Plenty clinical site at Tauranga Hospital, Professor Peter Gilling, said students who completed regional and rural placements gained an increased awareness of the benefits and challenges, and were more willing to work in a rural area. The medical school’s expansion into the Bay of Plenty and rural Waikato is based on the Northland DHB’s successful Pukawakawa programme, which includes training at Whangarei Hospital, rural hospitals and general practices.

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