Auckland University missed a major opportunity when it opted against establishing a graduate-entry medical programme in Hamilton a decade ago.
Waikato University professor of population health Ross Lawrenson worked on the proposal in 2007 and said the idea enjoyed considerable political backing.
The idea was eventually shelved by Auckland University.
Lawrenson has been intimately involved in the Waikato medical school proposal which advocates for a community-engaged, graduate-entry medical school based in Hamilton.
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He said Auckland University’s decision not to create a graduate-entry programme in Hamilton a decade early was a missed opportunity.
“If the University of Auckland did go ahead with the graduate-entry programme, it would have allowed us to be seven to eight years ahead of the game and we’d have trialled what we think is a successful programme,” Lawrenson said.
The Waikato medical school proposal, a joint initiative from Waikato University and the Waikato District Health Board, aims to reverse a shortfall of primary-care doctors, especially in provincial and rural areas.
New Zealand imports 1100 doctors a year. Many end up working in rural and provincial communities but don’t stay in the country long term.
Lawrenson said both Auckland and Otago medical schools got a significant funding injection in 2008 in an effort to attract more students from rural backgrounds.
The subsequent results were mixed, he said, with a lot of the extra funding channelled into the med schools’ research endeavours.
“Tertiary education funding went from around $32,000 to $46,000 a year, so it was around $14,000 extra per student,” Lawrenson said.
“But a lot of that extra funding has been used up by Otago and Auckland’s research capacity. I would be the first to say that New Zealand needs an active research-orientated medical school but the lack of capacity for medical student placements is about a shortage of supervision and that is due to a lack of investment.”
Auckland and Otago have come out against the Waikato bid, saying the proposal’s aim to increase the number of medical graduates becoming GPs was “commendable but unrealistic”.
The heads of Auckland and Otago med schools argue that unless Waikato uses a bonding scheme, the proposed med school will likely produce a similar ratio of urban/rural doctors as the two existing programmes.
Lawrenson said it was questionable whether bonding doctors to rural or provincial communities worked.
However, there was compelling overseas evidence that community-engaged medical schools were successful at placing more GPs in disadvantaged, rural and provincial communities.
“There is strong evidence that taking a different sort of student, giving them a different curriculum, and providing them with postgraduate support, produces a different outcome.”
The Waikato med school draws on successful community-engaged medical schools overseas, such as the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.
The Northern Ontario med school opened in 2005 and has been successful in addressing the health workforce needs of its rural communities.
The Waikato med school aims to have 60 per cent of its graduates specialising as GPs.