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Rural doctor shortage: GPs considered ‘lesser beings’

For 25 years, Dr John Burton has been a lifeline for people in the isolated Waikato community of Kawhia, but, he says, GPs are considered “lesser beings” so job training is not producing good doctors for rural areas.

Kawhia GP Dr John Burton

Dr John Burton is the only GP in seaside Kawhia. Photo: RNZ / Joanne O’Brien

He said being the only doctor within an hour’s drive might deter some, but it made life fun.

“One of the things that often puts people off coming to a place like Kawhia is you’re always on call and anything can happen.

“Yet if I look back over the years I’ve had here, the times I’ll be remembering will probably be the times when, yes, I delivered a baby in the back of the ambulance or somebody was in a life-threatening condition.”

Dr Burton said going through crises with patients built relationships, which helped deliver primary healthcare to prevent serious illnesses.

It is those relationships under threat in many rural communities where the vacancy rate for GPs is 20 to 25 percent. They struggle to recruit and retain doctors.

The shortage of rural doctors drove the Waikato District Health Board and Waikato University to propose a new graduate medical school.

Read the full story on Radio New Zealand.

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