'Virtual Campus' Plans in New Zealand

Rural Medicine Clinic in New Zealand

Fraser Clarke

A new ‘Virtual Campus’ specialising in rural healthcare could help tackle New Zealand’s skills shortage in the field.

Based on existing models in Australia, the proposals have gained the support of the Universities of Otago and Auckland, and the Auckland University of technology, with a new report detailing the structure and plans of the ‘virtual school’.

The operation would bring academics from throughout the country together via a ‘virtual campus’, with students experiencing the real world of rural medicine within small towns.

According to research published by the Universities, people living in rural towns in New Zealand have far poorer health outcomes than those in cities - with life expectancies notably lower.

Healthcare leaders in the country now hope that they can improve the situation, by training more students in rural healthcare at an early stage. They are also keen to encourage a more collaborative approach, where medical students work alongside nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists in the community.

According to the plans the new facility would; “not (be) an additional tertiary education provider but an 'enabling body' collectively owned by the existing institutions that, by sharing human, physical and other resources, would permit them to educate students in rural communities in ways currently not possible.”

They add: “Rural healthcare is more generalist, less resource intensive and more engaged with the community. The boundaries between primary and secondary care and between professional groups are more blurred.

“Up until now, most rural health workforce initiatives have come out of individual urban tertiary institutions, and are aimed at single professional groups.”

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