Innovative Rural Clinical Experience for Some Health Students at University of Auckland

By Denise Irvine, Rural Communities Chapter


Opening in 2012, the Rural Health Interprofessional Programme, based at Te Whatu Ora – Whakatane, had student numbers of seven with three disciplines: Medical Students, Registered Nurses and Occupational Therapists. Now in 2023, this exciting, innovative programme has expanded, with numbers increasing to approximately 70 students a year and includes a much wider variety of Health professionals, including Speech Language Therapists, Social Workers, Physiotherapists, Health Psychologists, Dieticians, Optometrists, Podiatrists, Pharmacists, Nurses, Paramedics and Occupational Therapists and Medical Imaging.

“The programme focuses on the provision of rural health care, chronic conditions management and principles of Hauora Māori within a collaborative framework.” (Course Handbook.) 

This clinical placement is a joint initiative between the University of Auckland (UOA) and Te Whatu Ora -Bay of Plenty, funded by Manatū Hauora. The University of Otago provides the same program based in Gisborne, with both universities working in collaboration.

Recruitment and retention have always been a challenge in rural areas, so after much discussion with top health professionals, plans were developed to provide specific rural clinical education to enable students to gain experience in this rural environment. Māori, Pacific and Rural patients are included, with the possible outcome that after a positive experience, they will return to Whakatane or some other rural area to take up a role post-graduation.

Students are accommodated in three houses rented by the programme, and apart from food, all other costs are paid for by the programme. In living, studying, and working together, students learn from each other and learn to work in a collegial manner where discussions occur over coffee as they gather in their lounge at the end of a shift.

The programme, based in Whakatane, is five weeks long. Students experience a noho marae over the first two days, introducing students to a culture they often have had little to do with. Elliott Harris (pictured), a 5th-year Medical Student, thought the Marae experience was “amazing”, introducing him to a culture he had little previous understanding of. His clinical experience will be seeing patients under supervision at a Whakatane GP clinic, where this cultural experience will be of great assistance to him.

Eve Dixon, a Health Psychology student, was also very generous in her praise for the programme. She described how it had exposed her to the actual difficulties of the rural population, such as if consults could happen sooner, the time people spent in the hospital could probably be much shorter. She felt rural is an extremely rewarding area to work in. “There is more scope in rural to care for people who really need it and find access extremely difficult.”

For more information, check out our Rural Health Careers Pathways page

→   Pathways – Hauora Taiwhenua (   ←