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The University of Otago is establishing a Chair of Rural Health as part of its commitment to improving health outcomes across Aotearoa New Zealand.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Division of Health Sciences, Professor Paul Brunton, says the decision to establish the Chair emerged from the Division’s long-term planning which identified Rural Health as a significant priority.

“It recognises our responsibility to train a health workforce for all New Zealanders, particularly those rural populations with unmet need.”

Fundraising for the position will begin soon.

The Chair of Rural Health will build on Otago’s establishment of a Section of Rural Health in 2018 and initiatives such as the Section’s postgraduate papers for rural doctors and the Rural Medical Immersion Programme (RMIP) which places fifth year medical students on placement in a rural community.

The role would not be based on an urban campus but instead embedded in rural communities and health services to guide the delivery of the Division of Health Sciences’ Rural Health Plan.

This plan articulates a broad vision which includes engaging with rural communities, educating a health workforce equipped to meet their needs and undertaking rural health research.

Otago’s Section of Rural Health Head Associate Professor Garry Nixon says: “Rural health is now recognised as an academic discipline of its own right and it is now common internationally for Universities to establish rurally based health academic units.”

The Chair would be a multidisciplinary position in the Division of Health Sciences with the successful candidate potentially drawn from any of the health professions. A key focus would be addressing the health workforce problems faced by rural areas.

“Rural health as a discipline needs its own structures and its own leadership which can drive initiatives to do something positive and concrete about the rural health workforce shortages.”

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