Rural immersion success for medical students

28 May 2013

Many of the University of Auckland medical students who get a taste of rural immersion in Northland are returning to work there.

Year five medical students compete for sought after placements in Northland on Pukawakawa - the University’s rural immersion programme begun in Northland five years ago.

A quarter of the fifth year medical students who did their fifth year in Northland have returned to continue their training there.

Of the 80 University of Auckland students that took part in Pukawakawa from 2008 to 2012, 20 students have returned as junior medical staff.

These include a significant number of students with Maori or Pacific Island heritage.  They represent 35 per cent of those Pukawakawa students who returned to train or work in Northland.

“These figures are in keeping with literature from Australia and beyond that about a quarter of students who study in a rural setting will end up in rural careers,” says Professor Phillippa Poole, head of the University’s Department of Medicine.   “Of course many of the students who choose Pukawakawa have come from a rural background which in itself is a predictor of future rural practice.”

Dr Poole leads the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences’ long term tracking research projects to determine the benefits on the workforce of initiatives such as the Pukawakawa programme.

She has published research on medical student selection in New Zealand, characteristics of medical students that work in rural areas, and which evidence-based undergraduate interventions promote rural health.

The Pukawakawa programme is run by The University of Auckland in partnership with the Northland District Health Board and was the first of its kind between a medical school and a health board.

Each year there are 10 places available at Whangarei Hospital for first year provisional Registered Medical Officers (interns or house surgeons) and over the past four years half of those 40 places have gone to the University’s Pukawakawa students.

“More students applied, but competition for those places is fierce.  It’s a very competitive process, “says Northland Health site academic co-ordinator, Dr Win Bennett. “Most who come back stay at least two years and some stay longer.”

“We are also interested to see how many will return as registrars and eventually as consultants and GPs, but the high number returning as RMOs looks promising,” he says.

The Pukawakawa students are based at the Board’s Whangarei Hospital for two thirds of their time in Northland and spend the other third based at one of the Board’s four rural centre hospitals – Kaitaia, Bay of Islands, Hokianga or Dargaville.

While in Whangarei the students live on-site in a hospital hostel.  The University of Auckland Medical School has a small campus at Whangarei Hospital that supports the students.

“They also receive great support from the Northland Health Board, the hospital staff, Public Health Officers, te Poutokomanawa ( the Maori Health Unit) and the Northland community,” says Dr Bennett.  “The programme is very popular and feedback from the students is very positive.”

For more information contact:

Suzi Phillips, Media Relations Advisor Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences Communications, The University of Auckland Email Tel +64 9 373 7599 ext 87383 or Mob 021416396