Students gain rural health experience

Academic Coordinator Yvonne Boyes (standing), with RHIP students, taking the learning outside of the lecture theatre. Supplied image.

Students from a diverse range of health professions called Whakatāne home this year as they got to grips with the requirements of practicing in a rural setting.

The 63 students are part of the Eastern Bay’s Rural Health Interprofessional training Programme which aims to improve the recruitment and retention of health professionals in rural areas by providing students with an opportunity to live, study and work together in Whakatāne.

The 2019 intake was its largest ever.

Academic Coordinator, Yvonne Boyes, is immensely proud of how the programme has gone from strength to strength.

“Key to RHIP’s success is the quality of support that students receive from the DHB’s Regional Māori Health Services, hospital staff, Eastern Bay General Practice community and primary care providers who have really embraced the programme,” says Yvonne.

“This support goes a long way to ensuring the viability of our future health work force.”

RHIP commenced in 2012 with a small pilot involving 3 disciplines and 7 students, now over 350 students have completed the programme.

Students have returned to the area once graduated for employment, directly resulting from their experience on RHIP, boosting the rural health workforce.

Paramedicine student, Alice Cloke from the Auckland University of Technology was in the most recent cohort, she has been accepted for employment at St Johns Whakatāne. This locality was not on her radar prior to RHIP.

She says, for me the RHIP programme was the highlight of my academic year and the stepping stone to a full time job.

“The Eastern Bay of Plenty is the perfect setting to provide an insight into rural and Maori health.

“Practical experiences on the programme lead me to appreciate the area and its diversity; they will be invaluable as I begin my new role in Whakatane.”

This year’s programme included students from optometry, nutrition and dietetics, adding to a wide range of existing health professions; medicine, pharmacy, social work, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, podiatry, paramedicine, nursing, midwifery, and speech language therapy. 

Immersion in the local community while living and working together means that students have the opportunity to learn from other professional peers, leading to improved working relationships and a better understanding of how to work together and contribute to patient care. 

The RHIP programme exemplifies a holistic approach to health and students gain a better understanding of Tikanga Māori, public health priorities and how social issues influence health. The willingness from health providers in the community and health professionals to supervise and train the students is key to the programme’s success.

“RHIP has made a significant difference to how we educate students and widen their experience and knowledge with rural health disparities,” says Peter Gilling, head of the BOP clinical campus and assistant dean at University of Auckland.

“We know this is making a positive impact on the recruitment of health professionals to rural areas – and they really enjoy it.”

RHIP is a joint initiative between the University of Auckland and the Bay of Plenty District Health Board’s clinical campus and receives funding from Health Workforce New Zealand.

Eight tertiary institutions provide students to experience rural life and placements in the community.




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