2 Aug 2021

Plea for more government funds to push health careers to rural teenagers

3:55 pm on 2 August 2021

The Rural General Practice Network is calling on the government to continue funding a programme promoting health careers to rural high school pupils.

Healthcare people

The Ministry of Health says it offers several initiatives to strengthen the rural health workforce. Photo: 123rf

A pilot project which ran for 10 months has recently ended and so far there is no ongoing commitment for Ministry of Health money.

Rural GP Network chief executive Grant Davidson said without the programme long-term health services in rural communities will continue to be in crisis.

He said short term overseas medical graduates can fill gaps, but research shows medical students from rural areas often return to their communities and stay their long term.

Dr Davidson said during the 10-month programme they visited 108 schools and attended careers expos.

He said the support from schools was overwhelmingly positive.

"Most of the students and many of the teachers had no idea there were programmes where they offer preferential entry to rural candidates so just getting the word out that there are opportunities for these kids.

"Also what subject choices do they need to make so they stand a good chance of getting into the programmes. It's really vital," he said.

Dr Davidson said the school careers programme used young people who are already training to be doctors, nurses and midwives to visit the schools so they were not much older than the pupils, which encouraged them to see more easily where they could end up.

He said many also could whakapapa to the region they were visiting and that created significant links.

"Face to face contact, inspirational contact, with people in the profession can really turn people around and open up opportunities for them."

Dr Davidson said that the rural GP network was not a big enough organisation to fund the school promotion work and he hoped to get a Ministry response by the end of August.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health said support for the pilot rural school careers programme was a one-off contract.

A spokesperson said the ministry was looking into why the Rural GP Network can't fully fund it from now on and how it can be sustainably supported.

The ministry said it is funding all eligible applications for general practice training this year and is working with the Royal College of General Practitioners to increase rural and regional placements for general practice trainees.

The ministry said it has a number of initiatives underway to strengthen the rural health workforce and support local communities.

These included actions to expand education and training places in rural locations, support rural health practitioners and extend technology-enabled delivery of training.

It said support was being given to rural midwives through a rural midwifery locum service and support for nurse practitioners in rural locations, the rural immersion programme has been extended to include the West Coast, and it is funding a video-based education programme to the rural health workforce.

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