Otago Medical School students experience challenges of rural healthcare in New Zealand

Otago Medical School students experience challenges of rural healthcare in New Zealand

Otago Medical School students were afforded a unique rural healthcare perspective last week as they delved into the challenges and opportunities of delivering medical services within sparsely populated regions. 

Hosted by Hurunui District Mayor Marie Black on Thursday, August 24, the visiting students congregated at the Hurunui District Council's Chambers as part of their third-year assessment on healthcare provision in rural locales. 

The students embarked on a comprehensive exploration of healthcare providers across Hurunui, encompassing medical centres, St John, Rural Support Trust, and even a preschool.

Mayor Black, an esteemed figure in the district who had formerly worked as a Plunket health worker within Hurunui, illuminated the diverse dynamics that underscore healthcare in the region. 

“It was valuable to have an opportunity to provide a rural perspective to future healthcare providers and encourage them to consider returning to our rural district to work.”

She explained the dual nature of challenges and opportunities presented by the demographic makeup of Hurunui. The district grapples with an expansive geographical footprint juxtaposed against a modest population base. 

Over a quarter of the population is projected to be aged over 65 by 2051, presenting a formidable challenge in ensuring accessibility to healthcare services for both elderly individuals and younger demographics lacking driver's licenses due to the absence of public transportation.

Mayor Black accentuated the commendable spirit of community collaboration that fuels the region's healthcare initiatives. 

“The Hawarden-Waikari Community Vehicle Trust’s AGM last week revealed 69 people over the past year were picked up from their homes, taken to medical appointments and brought back home in a community-owned car," she said.

This endeavour, reliant on dedicated volunteers, fills the void created by the lack of public transport, offering a dignified solution to the transportation dilemma.

A key aspect that Mayor Black expounded upon was the significant prevalence of community-owned health centres in Hurunui. Of the five health centres in the district, an impressive four are owned and operated by the community itself, funded through the contributions of local ratepayers.

Mayor Black's sentiment about the value of the students' visits resonated deeply, as she noted their consistent presence over the past decade. She welcomed the opportunity to infuse the students' medical education with insights from a rural vantage point, hoping to inspire them to consider returning to Hurunui in their professional capacities. 

The impending growth of retirement villages in Amberley further emphasizes the necessity of retaining and attracting general practitioners and nurses, reinforcing the indispensable role that healthcare providers play in enhancing the well-being of rural communities.