Virtual health school for rural areas

Health experts say a ''virtual'' school could help both recruitment and retention of health professionals in rural areas.

The National Interprofessional School of Rural Health that has been proposed recently is not a separate education provider, but rather a body that would distribute the expertise of existing tertiary institutions into rural communities.

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 (AUT) outlined details about their proposal, which is designed to address a persisting shortage of health professionals in rural areas.

The intention is to create an interprofessional community of rural health academics, dispersed across rural New Zealand and brought together on a virtual campus.

University of Otago associate Dean of Rural Health said the proposed virtual school could both attract people to work in rural areas and encourage them to stay there.

''Giving them good quality teaching and education will definitely encourage them [health professionals] into rural areas.''

Dr Nixon said the idea of the virtual school would be to have infrastructure in rural towns integrated with local health services.

''It would create a community network of health professional[s] across the country.''

He said it would also allow experienced health professionals an opportunity to become teachers; a chance that they otherwise might not get.

''This way they could take on a role without having to move to the city.''

Dr Nixon said if the proposal was to go ahead he hoped that Otago/Southland would be a leader with the initiatives as a large percentage of the population lived outside the main centres.

University of Auckland head of the medical programme professor Warwick Bagg, said the long-term vision is to create a culture of rural academic development and presence.

''Based on overseas evidence we know this is likely to encourage many more health professionals to live and work in rural areas.''

-AUT's head of clinical sciences, associate professor Peter Larmer said the university was excited to be involved in the project.

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