When Kiwis talk about healthcare a favourite topic is the shortage of general practitioners at grassroots level — from sole operators in small towns to busy clinics in towns the size of Cambridge and Te Awamutu.

One solution that is getting traction is a system of physician assistants developed out of need in America following World War II.

And here in New Zealand Te Awamutu Medical Centre is leading the charge to have these practitioners recognised and integrated into the medical system.

In New Zealand they are known as a physician associate (PA). There are just seven in the country and two are working in Te Awamutu.

Alaskan Tiffany Hodgson is a pioneer of the role in New Zealand.

She married Russell Hodgson, who was born and raised in Te Awamutu, and they live in Cambridge with their two Kiwi-born daughters.

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Tiffany has been in New Zealand nine years and was part of the second PA trial in 2013, working in Hamilton. The trial went for 16 months.

After the nationwide trial finished in 2015, and her second daughter was born, Tiffany joined Te Awamutu Medical Centre as a part-time PA.

Te Awamutu Medical Centre. Photo / Dean Taylor
Te Awamutu Medical Centre. Photo / Dean Taylor

Tiffany explains that the concept was developed in the USA when servicemen and women returned home from war to a country desperately short of medical professionals.

Doctors at Duke University realised many returning service personnel had medical experience through necessity or training, so the physician assistant programme was developed to

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