Rural health service gains outlined in plan

Garry Nixon
Garry Nixon
Moves to create a "virtual campus" for rural health training would also  improve health services in New Zealand’s rural towns, including those in Otago, Dr Garry Nixon says.

Dr Nixon, who is University of Otago associate dean rural and works at Dunstan Hospital in Clyde, makes the point in an article on the national "virtual campus proposal", recently published in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

The article’s co-authors include colleagues at Auckland University and AUT.

International research showed  people living in rural towns had "consistently poorer health outcomes, including lower life expectancy", than those living in cities, the academics said. The proposed "National Interprofessional School of Rural Health" would help counter "chronic shortages of doctors in rural areas" and "pockets of rural disadvantage", Dr Nixon said.

The proposed school was not a "separate education provider", or a bricks and mortar complex.

But this "enabling body" would use the expertise of the existing tertiary institutions, including Otago University, to undertake more teaching and research in rural communities, in partnership with local health services.

Rural health professionals would provide healthcare, but could also hold part-time academic posts and undertake health-related teaching and research.

The three universities had long worked hard to encourage more health professionals to practise in rural areas.

However, government support was needed, as had already happened in rural Australia.

The three universities had put forward the proposal to the Government in a bid to address a "persisting shortage" of rural health professionals.

The aim was to create an "inter-professional community" of rural health academics operating through teaching and research nodes in rural towns, and linked by modern IT systems.

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