15 Mar 2024

Much-needed heart sonography course launched at University of Auckland

3:50 pm on 15 March 2024
Medical ultrasound machine with linear probes in a hospital diagnostic room. Modern medical equipment, preventional medicine and healthcare concept.

Until now, students have had to go overseas for training. Photo: sinenkiy/123RF

The University of Auckland has launched a training programme for heart sonographers, in a bid to fill dire workforce shortages.

Until now, students have had to go overseas for training, since the previous course (run by the Australasian Society for Ultrasound in Medicine) closed down in 2019.

A recruitment campaign to attract overseas-trained sonographers has failed to keep up with demand, and workforce shortages have meant patients were regularly waiting up to a year-and-a-half for scans to diagnose serious or life-threatening heart conditions.

Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora has provided seed funding towards the new cardiac ultrasound training.

Interim scientific and technical lead for allied health Sue Waters said the initiative would fill an important gap in New Zealand's health workforce "and ultimately help patients gain better access to the care they need".

"Having a course in New Zealand helps ensure we can train our own domestic workforce and improve how Māori and Pacific peoples are represented in our cardiac sonography workforce."

The two-year post-graduate programme will have space to train at least 15 students a year.

The first cohort of students attended an in-person introductory course in February, while the rest of the course will be taught online to make it more accessible for applicants from across the motu.

The University of Auckland is currently the only institution in New Zealand training general sonographers.

The head of the School of Medical Sciences, Professor Paul Donaldson, says those enrolled will come from a variety of health professional backgrounds.

"Cardiac ultrasound training is an exciting and purposeful career pathway for qualified health professionals who are currently in nursing or other allied health, scientific and technical roles to consider.

"The programme spans two years and includes both clinical and academic components that enable students to gain the specialist, and sought-after, knowledge and practical skills needed to evaluate a patient's condition and make a diagnosis."

According to the Australasian Sonographers Association, workforce shortages have been exacerbated by the fact that more than 40 percent of sonographers work in part-time roles with limited capacity to take on additional work, and one in four is over 50 years old and approaching retirement.

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