New Zealand postgraduate medical training by distance for Pacific Island country-based general practitioners: a qualitative study

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Blattner K et al. Journal of Primary Health Care 2022; 14(1): 74–79.

Open Access

“Enrolling at the University of Otago distance-taught Rural Postgraduate programme allowed me the flexibility to study, work, and not have to relocate my young family to NZ. The registration process was simple and the content of the papers were applicable to the Cook Islands context especially the challenges faced in rural/remote settings with very little resources. It created a career pathway for upskilling which formed an important academic component for the Cook Islands GP Fellowship Programme which I’ve been blessed as a recipient.” Dr Teariki Puni

This study explores student experiences of the now established partnership between the University of Otago rural postgraduate programme and Pacific Island country-based doctors. While successful in meeting clinical relevance and professional connections, there needs to be better access to University resources and academic support akin to those based on campus. The lead author, Kati Blattner, is a tremendous advocate and support for these students who have achieved highly. See previous posts:  and and


Introduction. New Zealand health training institutions have an important role in supporting health workforce training programmes in the Pacific Region. Aim. To explore the experience of Pacific Island country-based doctors from the Cook Islands, Niue, and Samoa, studying in New Zealand’s University of Otago distance-taught Rural Postgraduate programme. Methods. Document analysis (16 documents) was undertaken. Eight semi-structured interviews were conducted with Pacific Island country-based students. Thematic analysis of the interviews was undertaken using the framework method. The two data sources were analysed separately, followed by a process to converge and corroborate findings. Results. For Pacific Island countries with no previous option for formal general practice training, access to a recognised academic programme represented a milestone. Immediate clinical relevance and applicability of a generalist medical curriculum with rural remote emphasis, delivered mainly at a distance, was identified as a major strength. Although technologies posed some issues, these were generally easily solved. The main challenges identified related to the provision of academic and other support. Traditional university support services and resources were campus focused and not always easily accessed by this group of students who cross educational pedagogies, health systems and national borders to study in a New Zealand programme. Study for individuals worked best when it was part of a recognised and supported Pacific in-country training pathway. Discussion. The University of Otago’s Rural Postgraduate programme is accessible, relevant and achievable for Pacific Island country-based doctors. The programme offers a partial solution for training in general practice for the Pacific region. Student experience could be improved by tailoring and strengthening support services and ensuring their effective delivery.

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