ACADEMIC co-ordinator Yvonne Boyes (standing), with Eastern Bay’s Rural Health Interprofessional Training Programme students, take learning outside of the lecture theatre. Photo supplied

Sixty-three students from a range of health professions called the Eastern Bay home this year as they got to grips with the requirements of practising in a rural setting.

The Eastern Bay’s Rural Health Interprofessional Training Programme (RHIP) 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 the Eastern Bay. The 2019 intake was its largest ever.

Academic co-ordinator Yvonne Boyes said the programme had gone from strength to strength.

“Key to RHIP’s success is the quality of support that students receive from the DHB’s Regional Maori Health Services, hospital staff, Eastern Bay general practice community and primary care providers who have really embraced the programme,” she said.

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

The programme started in 2012 with a small pilot involving three disciplines and seven students, and now more than 350 students have completed the programme.

Students often return to the area for employment once they have graduated.

A paramedicine student from the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) in the most recent cohort has been accepted for employment at St John Whakatane. This locality was not on her radar prior to RHIP.

University of Auckland medical graduate Dane Naidoo said the programme combined his community medicine placement with opportunities to explore the local community and to get to know local iwi and their stories.

“The connections I made during the programme have made providing healthcare in the local area a lot more personal and have played a pivotal role in returning to the Eastern Bay of Plenty as a graduate,” he said.

Wintec nursing graduate Denise Taylor said the she felt welcomed, supported and was exposed to a rural community “that I fell in love with”.

The programme this year 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 can 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 Maori, public health priorities and how social issues influence health.

The willingness of 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,” said the head of the BOP clinical campus, assistant dean, University of Auckland, Professor Peter Gilling.

“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 prove students to experience rural life and placements in the community.