Rural doctors in New Zealand warn the sector is beyond crisis point

Rural doctors are warning the sector isn't in crisis - it's worse than that. 

GPs who are years past retirement age are propping up our rural health service, too scared to retire for fear of leaving their communities in the lurch. 

Now Te Whatu Ora has given the sector a $1 million funding boost to lure more doctors to rural areas.

These medical students have just saved this patient from an asthma attack. 

Efforts are being made to improve the flow of medical graduates into the rural workforce
Efforts are being made to improve the flow of medical graduates into the rural workforce Photo credit: Newshub

It's hands-on experience that more students will receive, as part of the rural medical immersion programme which has received a $1.2 million funding boost as part of Te Whatu Ora's Health Workforce Plan. 

"Coming to the end of this year I'm doing everything I can to get back to a rural centre," medical student Hannah Wilkinson said.

Research shows doctors who train in rural settings are five times more likely to return to work there and the sector needs it. 

"It's absolutely desperate, the situation, and it's more than crisis point, it's ridiculous," Wairoa doctor Margaret Feilding said.

Dr Feilding has worked rurally for five decades. She has to because there is no one to replace her. 

"We all would like to retire but there is such a need we can't, I just feel like I can't walk away from the community," she said.

Rural New Zealand is defined as anywhere outside these main centres and half of all rural practices have vacancies.

It's hoped the immersion programme will eventually help fill some of those. 

"Embedded in those communities, so getting to live and learn in those environments for the full year and seeing patients when they come in the door and following them on their journey," Otago University's rural medical immersion programme director Janine Lander said.

It's the first time the upper North Island has been included.

Dean of Auckland University's Faculty of Medical and Health Science professor John Fraser described it as a "first step in trying to improve the flow of our medical graduates into the rural workforce".

Sites will be opened in Wellsford, Kataia, Wairoa and Alexandra, adding to current sites in Queenstown, Ashburton and the West Coast.

There are also plans to expand to Thames and Hawera. 

"By working back in a rural centre I'm in some way giving back to the people who have grown up in towns like me," medical student Rebecca Robinson said.

Whether they stay, may come down to the pay.