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Boosting Medical Student Numbers Not The Solution

Boosting Medical Student Numbers Not The Solution

Professor Max Abbott, AUT University Dean of Health and Environmental Sciences and Deputy Chair of the country's largest district health board, said today that the proposal to boost medical student numbers was not, on its own, a solution to the workforce crisis facing the health sector.

"There are shortages of doctors, especially in primary care, and more medical graduates should help," said Professor Abbott. "However, they will need to receive a different sort of education that fosters the values, competencies and commitment to equip them to stay in New Zealand and make a positive difference at community level."

"It is also important to recognise that there is much more to health care than how many doctors there are. Nurses greatly outnumber doctors as do the broad spectrum of other health professionals and support workers. All perform critically important roles and a significant gap anywhere can disrupt an entire health team or service."

Professor Abbott said a number of the most pressing staffing short-falls are in health professions other than medicine, for example midwifery and oral health. He said that, as with GPs, this will get worse as these workforce sectors age.

"It is crucial that funding is provided to increase student intakes across all of the health disciplines, not just medicine. In some cases, such as oral health and midwifery, the need for significant growth is more urgent and compelling than it is for medicine."

"While we have some growth across AUT University's thirty or so health programmes as a whole, there are courses where insufficient funding will require reductions in first year intakes next year. This includes areas where there are significant shortages of professional staff."

Professor Abbott believes it is ironic and tragic that the University has to restrain expansion at the very time that the need is greatest and there is greater willingness from the health sector to take more students. Previously, he said, ambivalence on the part of health providers was a greater barrier to increasing student numbers than government funding. The situation has now reversed.

He said that while larger student intakes across the full spectrum of health professions is a priority, it is not enough to do more of the same.

"We need to be much more flexible in our thinking about who does what in the health sector, especially in primary care. We need many more nurse practitioners and other health professionals who extend their expertise and scopes of practice. All health professionals need to learn to work more effectively in multidisciplinary teams and be more responsive to patients and communities."


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