22 Aug 2020

Prospect of med school quotas causes alarm

6:55 am on 22 August 2020

First published on Otago Daily Times

By Grant Miller

Student representatives are worried proposed caps on the number of Māori and Pasifika admissions to the University of Otago Medical School could have negative implications for decades.

Injury leg. Young man with injured leg. Young woman doctor helps the patient

Any discussion on changing affirmative pathways for medical professionals is at an early stage, the Otago Medical School says. Photo: 123RF

Such changes, potentially affecting the way students are chosen for their second year of study, could undermine efforts to boost the number of medical professionals who come from traditionally under-represented groups, they fear.

"We're concerned introducing a cap could stunt any potential gains in trying to make a health workforce that's equitable," Te Oranga ki Otakou president Isaac Smiler said.

His group is one of 11 student associations that have declared their opposition to proposed changes to the university's Mirror on Society policy.

The policy is designed to create a health workforce that better reflects society by promoting selection of some students through affirmative pathways such as Māori, Pasifika and rural.

Smiler said the intention to adjust the policy by bringing in caps was one area of concern and lack of consultation so far was another.

However, dean of the Otago Medical School Rathan Subramaniam said discussions were at an early stage and there was not yet a formal proposal for change.

A discussion document was presented to the university's medical admissions committee last week.

"If, at the end of initial discussions, any change to formal regulations is to be considered, that will be subject to the normal university procedures, including opportunities for consultation," Prof Subramaniam said.

The university was extremely proud of its Mirror on Society policy, he said.

"This policy has led to record numbers of Māori and Pasifika students entering the professional programmes in the health sciences division. In light of that success ... the university is currently considering the desirability of updating the regulations to better reflect the policy ... and to enhance transparency."

Otago University Medical Students' Association president Anu Kaw said students did not know what was driving proposed changes.

"We're not sure why there's this urgency to fix a policy that is not broken."

Smiler, a third-year medical student at Otago, said he wanted to make sure proper processes were undertaken.

"A decision that will impact on Māori health outcomes for decades surely warrants consultation with appropriate Māori voices."

Kaw expressed the same concern about Pacific voices.

The 11 student associations issued a collective statement that raised similar themes.

"We hold considerable concerns about what is being proposed and what this means for students."

The associations argued any caps should reflect the aim of "creating a health workforce that reflects the population it serves".

Prof Subramaniam said the university would continue to strive to deliver a health workforce representative of the make-up of the population.

Students applying for the medicine programme in 2021 would not be affected by any changes to the policy.

This story first appeared in the Otago Daily Times

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