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Doing without the residential component of a blended postgraduate rural medical programme during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic in New Zealand: student perspectives

Katharina Blattner, Rory Miller, Mark Smith & Janine Lander (2022) 

Education for Primary Care, DOI: 10.1080/14739879.2021.2011626

To link to this article:  

In a post-COVID19 era we have all experienced a move into the virtual environment especially for ongoing education/professional development and will relate to this study’s findings.


Aim: Rural-targeted postgraduate medical training is a key factor associated with entering rural practice. Rural health professionals often experience geographical and professional isolation, which can impact their training and education. In New Zealand, during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, an established distance postgraduate rural medical programme replaced its in-person residentials with virtual workshops. This study aimed to gain insights into the student experience of the virtual workshops, with emphasis on exploring the effects of the absence of an in-person component. 

Method: Qualitative exploratory design. All students who had completed a semester one 2020 University of Otago rural postgraduate module were invited by email to participate. Fifteen semi-structured interviews were conducted by video-conference. A thematic analysis was conducted using a general inductive approach. 

Results: Three themes captured the main issues. 1. Making sure everyone is in the same boat: the key roles of an in-person component were identified as consolidation of learning, benchmarking and connectedness. 2. Learning but not connecting: virtual workshops were well facilitated, allowed continuation of study and the convenience of staying home, however connectedness faded. 3. We’ve got to keep a human touch in a digital age: looking beyond the pandemic, opportunities for streamlining virtual content were identified, however there was concern around diminished communication and cultural aspects of learning and the absent connection with rural health services and communities. 

Conclusion: A virtual workshop is valuable in the COVID-19 environment but does not replace an in-person component of a distance postgraduate training programme for rural medicine 

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Vacancy - Regional Coordinator Rural Medical Immersion Programme (Wairarapa)

The above part time position is currently being advertised (0.3 to 0.5 FTE). It would suit a general practitioner or rural hospital doctor with an interest in teaching. Should the successful applicant be suitably qualified and seeking a more formal academic role including a research commitment, there is the potential to offer the position at Senior Lecturer level.

For more information & to apply online see:

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Cooks Islands doctor upskills with Otago diploma

Congratulations to Dr Nini Wynn in completing her postgraduate diploma in Rural and Provincial Hospital Practice (PGDipRPHP)

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Covid - Red, Yellow, Green

Recording of the webinar on Monday 6 December 2021.


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Rural CME Webinar: COVID in Rural Hospitals - Red, Yellow, Green.....

Monday 6th December 730pm

RNZCGP MOPS accredited

Rural Hospital panel discussion with guest presenters Jeremy Webber, Mark Smith, Jared Green, Steve Withington & Rachel Thomson

Register free at:

Fore more info contact

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