'Virtual' rural medical school proposed

NZ Herald / Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Friday, 9 November 2018, 11:12a.m.
It would be up to Government to decide to adopt the proposal. Photo / Getty


Otago and Auckland universities have proposed a school of rural health to address the shortage of health professionals across rural New Zealand.

Based on Australian models, the proposal would use a "virtual campus" to bring together rural health academics across the country - including from AUT - with activities based around rural towns and their local health services.

It would be up to Government to decide to adopt the proposal, and the Health Minister has previously indicated he wouldn't make a call on another proposal - for a medical school at Waikato University - until later in 2019.

The University of Otago said in a statement the National Interprofessional School of Rural Health was not a separate education provider, but rather an "enabling body" that would lever off the expertise of the existing tertiary institutions to undertake more teaching and research in rural communities, working in partnership with local health services.

In an article in the latest issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal, stakeholders from the University of Otago, University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology outlined details about their proposal designed to address what they called a persisting shortage of health professionals in rural areas and to provide for New Zealand's rural health needs in the future.

The intention was to create an interprofessional community of rural health academics, dispersed across rural New Zealand and brought together on a "virtual campus". Rural healthcare professionals would combine academic roles with active rural clinical practice.

The activities of the school would be based around nodes located in rural towns and integrated with local health services. It is proposed that a local governance group be established in each node in order to facilitate this community and iwi engagement.

Rural communities have multiple points of contact with different health professional education and training programmes run by different tertiary institutions and colleges.

Dr Garry Nixon, Associate Dean Rural at the University of Otago, said sharing human, physical and other resources would let these institutions educate students and undertake research in rural communities in ways currently not possible.

"It would create a community of health professional teachers and researchers in rural areas," Dr Nixon says.

"A National Interprofessional School of Rural Health would be a significant investment in the social fabric, institution and economics of small town New Zealand."

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