Health scientists asked to face hard questions

Peter Crampton
Peter Crampton
Whether it is right that nearly a quarter of University of Otago medical students in 2010 were from the richest 10% of homes is a question that needs to be asked, health sciences pro-vice-chancellor Prof Peter Crampton told a public health seminar yesterday.

The talk was pitched at Dunedin health sciences division staff, asking them to consider the role the school played in the wider community.

Prof Crampton invited them to consider whether the division should adopt a formal stance on "social accountability" or continue the status quo.

The division was good at some things already, such as forming relationships in the community. However, its approach was not systematic, and some things could be improved.

Part of the mix was whether students should be representative of the community, socio-economically and ethnically.

As well as the 23%-24% coming from the top 10%, about 17% were from the second-highest 10%.

Only about 2% came from the poorest 10%.

"Do we want to change this?"

Medicine and other health vocations were a "middle-class pursuit, by and large", although people from all backgrounds were present.

He said students from less-well-off backgrounds tended to struggle because academic achievement had not been part of the "air they breathe".

Courses with the most equal spread of backgrounds were pharmacy, and oral health and dental technology, the reason for which was not clear.

Prof Crampton said social accountability involved pitching research at the health needs of the community.

The "inherent tension" between academia and the rest of society was healthy, because academic independence was a "non-negotiable".

He questioned whether the division made best use of student "altruism", which was one of the main motives for entering health training.



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