Rural School Visits, June 2019

In June 2019, the NZRGPN commenced its groundbreaking national rural schools tour.

Twenty tertiary students training across a range of health disciplines including nursing, psychology, dentistry, pharmacy and medicine at the Universities of Otago, Victoria, Massey and Auckland and several Polytechnics, participated in tightly coordinated visits to 34 rural schools across the country.

The tour reached rural areas of Otago, Canterbury, Manawatu and Taupo: Akaroa, Lincoln, Rolleston, Ellesmere, Ashburton, Methven, Darfield, Geraldine, Fairlie, Twizel, Timaru, Oamaru, Waimate, Palmerston, Ranfurly, Milton, Cromwell, Roxburgh, Dunstan, Otaki, Levin, Palmerston North, Taihape, Turangi and Taupo.

Most of the tertiary students who presented these sessions were themselves from rural backgrounds and were very motivated to reach out to young people from similar rural New Zealand areas, with a number of students returning to their own former schools. 

This tour generated a large volume of media coverage, interest from local MPs and requests for repeat and more extensive visits. The tour reached thousands of secondary school students who may never have considered a career in health. Much of the feedback received was that until this visit, the possibility had not occurred to many of them.

Every session at each school was carefully tailored according to the age level of the audience – from Year 9 up to year 13 – with the key emphasis being on students in year 9 – 10. Generally, the sessions were structured with a short presentation from the tertiary students after which the students were split into groups to rotate around a range of hands-on health-related activities – CPR, taking blood pressure, testing reflexes and bandaging, as examples. 

For many of the young people, the concept of leaving their home to study at an urban-based tertiary training institution may have been daunting or not previously considered, but our tertiary students provided them with the information, encouragement and clarity around what was required and how it could be pursued to enable them to give a health career serious consideration. 

After reading feedback forms submitted by the school pupils, many of the tertiary students commented on how humbled and rewarded they felt from the experience – seeing with their own eyes the barriers some rural young people face, and how their visits can provide hope and possibilities.

An additional component of the programme was the opportunity for the tertiary students to visit a number of rural practices, hospitals and rural health champions.  This enabled them to find out more about the good things happening out there – services such as PRIME, community/iwi health services and how enriching working rurally really is.  The rural hosts were, likewise, very excited to have this next generation of health professionals in their midst to hear their stories and possibly come back to work with them once they are qualified. 

The future of rural health in New Zealand rests with our young people – it’s as simple as that. We’re actively implementing and continuing to build an outreach programme “by young people for young people” that is now starting to make a real difference. Likewise, on the tour the tertiary health students are given the opportunity to experience the many positive aspects of a rural health career when they visit the rural hospitals and practices in the areas they visit. 

NZRGPN intends to actively invest in and continue to build this programme over coming years.

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