13 May 2016

A Country Doctor

From Country Life, 9:36 pm on 13 May 2016
Young doctor Laura Hammersley can't wait to start working a rural community

Young doctor Laura Hammersley can't wait to start working a rural community Photo: Lee Harris, West Coast District Health Board

Laura Hammersely was barely passing medical school.

Then she was accepted in Otago University's Rural Medical Immersion Programme (RMIP).

The programme was set up in 2007 and each year it places 20 students in rural hospitals around New Zealand for the entire academic year.

Laura spent her 5th year at Grey Base Hospital in Greymouth and started passing her exams with flying colours.  

Now, the newly qualified doctor can't wait to get back to a rural community.

"The patients and the staff were so amazing and so supportive of my perceived lack of knowledge. Throughout the year I came to realise that it wasn't that I didn't have the knowledge or the drive it was that I didn't have the confidence in myself...That year did amazing things for me."

The RMIP is one strategy being used to encourage student doctors to consider a career in rural practice.

New Zealand has a chronic shortage of rural general practitioners and Tim Malloy, the founder of the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network says 100 extra rural doctors could be put to work tomorrow .

"There is a continuous recruitment drive to lure doctors from overseas to meet the medical needs of rural communities."

He says 60 percent of the medical workforce in our rural communities graduated outside New Zealand.

Another strategy employed to promote rural general practice is to send trainee doctors to complete a 6 week internship in a rural centre before they graduate. They are supervised by local GPs who have instructions to make sure the interns enjoy themselves.

"If you go out there and taste it, if you go out there and try it, there's a good chance you might like it and that is our single biggest recruitment opportunity," he says.