Northland’s unique Pūkawakawa Programme marks ten years

Press Release – University of Auckland

A celebration marking ten years of a groundbreaking training initiative to encourage more graduating doctors to Northland is to be held at Toll Stadium in WhangareiWEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2017
Northland’s unique Pūkawakawa Programme marks ten years

A celebration marking ten years of a groundbreaking training initiative to encourage more graduating doctors to Northland is to be held at Toll Stadium in Whangarei.

The Pūkawakawa Programme was the first partnership of its kind between a medical school and a health board.

Set up by the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences and the Northland District Health Board in 2007, it enables fifth year medical students to gain crucial experience in regional and rural health.

Each year 24 medical students complete the scheme. The placements are extremely sought after and not all medical students who apply will get a place.

Those who are selected spend two thirds of their time at Whangarei Hospital and a third at one of the Board’s four rural centre hospitals – Kaitaia, Bay of Islands, Hokianga or Dargaville. While in Whangarei the students live on-site in a hospital hostel.

So far 211 University of Auckland medical students have been through the scheme.
“The Pūkawakawa celebration recognises a decade of service from the University of Auckland to a rural community in the vital area of healthcare,” says Jim Peters, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Māori) at the University.

“It facilitates students to develop their own links with the area and to understand the unique skills and challenges in practicing rural medicine.”

One Pūkawakawa graduate who has chosen to practice in Northland is Brodie Elliott, currently a first year junior doctor at Whangarei Hospital.

“Te Tai Tokerau is my new home! It may sound like a cliché but I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. For me there was absolutely no benefit to be gained by moving back to a large centre,” Brodie, originally from Napier, says.

“Being a part of the Pūkawakawa programme had been a goal of mine since hearing of it in my first year of studies. It combined everything I enjoyed and drew meaning from, with its focus on community, autonomous learning and a great work-life balance.”

Of the students to have participated in the programme, 43 have returned to the area as junior medical staff, or about 23 per cent. Of this 16 per cent have Māori or Pacific Island descent.
This is in line with evidence that about quarter of students who study in a rural setting will end up working in rural areas.

Since 2010 Pūkawakawa graduates have gone on to claim 40 per cent of the available places at Whangarei Hospital for first year provisional Registered Medical Officers (interns or house surgeons). Most stay at least two years and some much longer.

“They also receive great support from the Northland Health Board, the hospital staff, Public Health Officers, te Poutokomanawa (the Māori Health Unit) and the Northland community,” says Northland Health site academic co-ordinator Dr Winfield Bennett. “The programme is very popular and feedback from the students is very positive.”

Last year a similar rural/regional programme based on Pūkawakawa was launched by the University in Whakatane. Fifth year medical students can apply to complete a three month placement at Whakatane Hospital and in local GP practices.

A celebration marking ten years of the ground-breaking initiative is to be held at Toll Stadium, Whangarei on Sunday, October 15, with past and present students and the dedicated health workers and University staff who have supported them.
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