Push to get more doctors into rural areas as numbers remain low

Postgraduate training in rural medicine is available for people who already have a medical degree.
Postgraduate training in rural medicine is available for people who already have a medical degree. Photo credit: File / Getty

There is a push to get more doctors into rural areas, with the number of medical professionals working outside cities low.

Dr Samantha Murton, president of The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP), says it's vitally important that Kiwis living outside urban centres have access to good medical care.

"Rural doctor numbers have always been low, and we have for years struggled to get people into rural areas," Dr Murton told Magic Talk's Rural Today on Wednesday. 

She said there were a number of reasons why it is hard to attract people to the countryside.

"If you haven't actually lived rurally or know what rural's about then it's actually really difficult to know what the experience is going to be," she told host Dominic George. 

"The other thing is often people have families and young children and going into a rural area could be difficult from a schooling perspective."

The RNZCGP opened applications for doctors wanting to specialise in rural hospital medicine and general practice this week.

The postgraduate training is available for people who already have a medical degree and it's hoped the courses will help boost the number of those practising medicine in rural areas.

Dr Murton said evidence showed doctors who were originally from rural backgrounds or who had trained in a rural setting were much more likely to end up staying and working there. 

"So if we can get people into a programme that's rurally focused that will help a lot with getting our numbers up in the rural areas," she said.

The training programme had only been around a decade, she said, meaning those coming through were still relatively young.

Although rural work could be difficult, Dr Murton said there was "huge potential and opportunities" for learning new skills and career progression, and "it is a really good gig".

As well as training to be confident dealing with a myriad of different medical situations, doctors also needed to have good support networks in place, since they are often working far from larger urban hospitals, she said.

"There's all these big difficulties and hurdles you have to jump when you're working rurally, so doing some really good training to make sure you're highly skilled but also being in an environment that's well supported [is important]...because if you're a one-man band in a rural area it's a lot different ballgame from being a one-man band in the middle of the city."