A group of 24 year five medical students are in Northland learning more about regional and rural health needs.

For the 12th year running a select group of year five students from the University of Auckland School of Medicine were welcomed into the esteemed Pūkawakawa programme at a pōwhiri in Whangārei this week.

The programme was set up by the University of Auckland's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Northland District Health Board in 2007 to offer year five medical students the opportunity to gain experience in regional and rural health.

Each student will spend the majority of their time working at Whangārei Hospital and the remainder placed at Dargaville, Kaitaia or Rawene Hospital to work in integrative care. Pūkawakawa's success has led to similar programmes being set up in the Bay of Plenty and Taranaki.


The majority of the 24 students in the 2019 Pūkawakawa intake had some affiliations with Northland including former Kaitaia College student Anaru Williams who was excited to
come back home to the North.

"After six years of study, it'll be nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and work with the rural GPs who are very skilful," Williams said.

Leading figures from the faculty travelled to Whangarei to attend the welcome, including the head of the school of medicine Professor Alan Merry who said that the pioneering programme is one of the jewels in the crown at the faculty.

He said that the unique programme is hugely sought after and valued by students wanting to be part of the rural immersion experience.

"We are trying to train doctors for all of New Zealand. In particular, doctors who want to get engaged in public healthcare because there's a huge need. That is our objective."

Professor John Fraser, dean of medicine and health sciences, also spoke of the importance of the programme saying that Pūkawakawa was the flagship of their medical programme and the university was extremely proud of what they have achieved with Northland DHB.

"We have a partnership. The purpose of Pūkawakawa is to ensure our graduates experience medicine at the very coalface of New Zealand and Northland is that coalface."

He said that the success of Pūkawakawa can be measured in so many ways, but a good example was that 50 per cent of the house surgeons currently working at Whangarei Hospital had been through the programme or were trainee interns in Northland.

Northland DHB chief executive Dr Nick Chamberlain urged students not to fear failure but embrace it and learn from their mistakes.

"If you don't fail you're not going to learn. We put guard rails around failure, so there's a backstop around you. Personally, I've learnt much more from my failures than all the successes I've had."

He told the students that they were coming to a DHB that provides very good care and that Northland's biggest challenge is inequity caused through poverty.

"This is going to be a big learning experience, and I challenge you to think differently, act differently and look at what you're seeing and learn from it. If we keep doing what we've always done, we get what we've always got."