Outgoing Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon has rejected a renewed push for the creation of a third medical school.
The Waikato Medical School proposal aims at addressing the rural general practitioner shortage and taking a “community-focused approach to health,” according to the University of Waikato website. Under the proposal, students with a three-year undergraduate degree would complete a four year intensive medical school program focusing on the healthcare needs of provincial and rural areas.
McCutcheon claims the creation of a Waikato Medical School “would risk an underfunded second-rate operation delivering doctors into New Zealand’s smallest towns”. Following the initial Waikato proposal, plans were unveiled for a national school of rural health; a joint venture between the University of Auckland and the University of Otago. Both universities have claimed these plans are not in reaction to the Waikato Medical School bid.
The current coalition government has shelved the idea of a Waikato Medical School, with Health Minister David Clark instead placing emphasis on rural training hubs as an answer to the doctor shortage. However, the National Party’s recent discussion of the proposal has reignited debate on the issue. National Party MP David Bennett has said that the Medical School could become an election promise with enough support from the public.
Sarah*, a third year University of Auckland Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Science student, believes a Waikato Medical School would be beneficial in addressing the doctor shortage. “From what I understand it was going to be focused on training primary care doctors which there is a massive demand for in New Zealand,” says Sarah. “But if I had a choice between Auckland and Waikato, I still would have chosen to study at the University of Auckland.”
The University of Auckland has previously rebuffed the Waikato Medical School proposal, with Dean of Medical and Health Sciences Professor John Fraser calling it “an ill-considered and expensive folly”.
Waikato Medical School debate aside, a severe shortage of doctors still exists in New Zealand. Over 40% of doctors practicing in New Zealand are trained overseas, and the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists claims that more foreign doctors are needed in all medical specialties. Many specialist medical professions feature on Immigration New Zealand’s Long Term Skill Shortage List, as the numbers of doctors coming through New Zealand medical schools fails to keep up with demand.
*Name changed for article