Government funding set to boost rural doctor workforce




The number of medical students spending a full year working in a rural or regional community is set to swell, thanks to new funding from Te Whatu Ora.

More than 35 trainee doctors will be able to spend a year working in rural communities in 2024, due to a funding boost from Te Whatu Ora aimed at tackling the shortage of rural doctors.

The funding will pay for ten extra students from Otago Medical School, on top of the 25 it currently puts through its Rural Medical Immersion Programme, and establishing a programme at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland.

University of Otago Associate Dean Rural Health Professor Garry Nixon says Otago Medical School will add two new sites in Wairoa and Alexandra to its current offering in Queenstown, Ashburton and the West Coast.

“The rural medical immersion programme was established at Otago University in 2007 and is an internationally proven model.

“The University’s figures suggest that rural medical immersion programme graduates are about five times more likely to become rural doctors than the rest of their medical class,” Professor Nixon says.

The University of Auckland is planning to establish sites in the central and upper North Island.

Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences Dean Professor John Fraser says the programme comes on top of a range of initiatives to encourage medical students to work in country areas, such as the regional rural admissions scheme.

“We are delighted that Te Whatu Ora and Te Aka Whai Ora have prioritised rural healthcare education to meet the rural healthcare workforce shortage, which will ultimately provide better health outcomes for those who live rurally in Aotearoa.”

Te Whatu Ora Workforce Development and Planning Director John Snook says the organisation is pleased to fund the additional places in Rural Medical Immersion Programmes.

“Scaling training initiatives to grow our future workforce – particularly in rural areas – is one of the many key actions we’re taking as part of our Health Workforce Plan. These extra placements are a welcome and important step to achieving better health access for our rural communities,” he says.

Rural Medical Immersion Programme students will split their time between rural general practices and hospitals and be mentored by community health providers and visiting specialists.

They live together in the rural town they are assigned to and will be encouraged to become part of the community.

Hauora Taiwhenua Rural Health Network has worked with the universities in advocating for expansion of rural training to support the well-being of people living rurally.

Chief Executive Dr Grant Davidson says this is a “keystone programme for building a sustainable health work force in our rural communities”.

“With a rural health workforce reporting burn-out, coupled with a large percentage of the workforce retiring in the next ten years, it is with urgency that students have the opportunity to train for a rural placement.”

Both universities already offer a suite of programmes for students with an interest in rural medicine, including rural admission schemes and placements throughout their training.

The universities are working towards a nationally collaborative approach to rural training.

Media contacts
Professor Garry Nixon, Associate Dean Rural Health at the University of Otago
M: 021 178 2662

University of Otago media adviser Lea Jones
M: O21 279 4969

Dr Grant Davidson, Chief Executive Hauora Taiwhenua Rural Health Network
Contact Grant Davidson via Sajan Patel, communications coordinator
M: 021 472 556

Professor John Fraser, Dean Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland
Contact Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland media adviser Jodi Yeats
M: 027 202 6372

John Snook, Director Workforce Development and Planning at Te Whatu Ora
Contact John Snook via Julia Goode, senior communications adviser – media
M: 021 223 2141