A new section of rural health has been set up at the University of Otago in order to get more health professionals working in rural areas.

The new section will combine the current rural postgraduate programme, the rural medical immersion programme and rural research.

It was believed to be the first dedicated rural health unit operating within a New Zealand tertiary institution.

Dr Garry Nixon, who was previously the director of the postgraduate rural programme, will take the role as the head of the section of rural health.

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Dr Nixon who works as a rural hospital generalist at Dunstan Hospital in Clyde said the new section had been a long time coming.

''I think the focus is really important, off the main campus and into rural areas.''

Dr Nixon said he considered it significant because although there were a number of rural clinical skills and university departments of rural health in Australia there was not anything similar in New Zealand.

He said the new section was basically a virtual campus to support training and education in the rural health sector across a range of services.

He said the section would be embedded into rural communities and day-to-day clinical practice.

Dean of the Otago Medical School Professor Peter Crampton said the launch of the new section was an important step forward.

''The section will provide New Zealand with much-needed research, commentary and interpretation related to health needs of rural communities,'' Professor Crampton said.

Dr Nixon said he hoped to get the new section up and running over the next six months.

He said the ultimate goal would be to create a national inter-professional school in rural health with various hubs in rural communities.

-By Ella Stokes

Southern Rural Life