The government’s announcement that it will offer graduate doctors, nurses, midwife, teachers and vets loan write-offs if they’re prepared to work in hard to staff areas is a good start.
No one is pretending it will be an instant fix for rural recruitment but as Health Minister Tony Ryall says:
“This is a first tangible step to helping keep our own front line clinical doctors, nurses and midwives, which we have trained specifically to care for kiwis, to work in the country that trained them.”
It may tempt those who know they can earn more overseas, but it is a sweetener which might help those who stay at home to choose rural hospitals rather than city ones.
Bonding newly graduated vets who are willing to work in rural practices may help persuade some of these professionals into the countryside too. Agriculture Minsiter David Carter says:
“The vets who opt in get a significant financial incentive, while eligible vet practices can have confidence they can retain graduates.
“Because the scheme encourages new vets to remain in the practice, rural areas will benefit from having vets settle and become part of the local community.”
Mr Carter says the scheme is targeted at rural vet practices working with farmed animals.
The increase in dairying has led to a greater demand for rural vets so this policy should help increase the supply.
A generation ago all teachers were paid during their training and bonded and country service was a requirement for those who wanted to advance up the career ladder.
Today’s announcement of loan write-offs for teachers applies not just to country schools but unpopular city schools and subject areas with a shortage of teachers too. Education Minister Anne Tolley said:
“This teacher bonding scheme represents a new solution to graduate teacher shortages. This scheme will assist in attracting teachers to schools that have had problems finding and keeping staff, and will boost numbers in subjects where there have been shortages,” Mrs Tolley said.
There are a lot fewer rural schools since Trevor Mallard’s radical surgery approach to rationalisation a few years ago, but many of those which remain still find it difficult to attract, and keep, staff. This policy offers an incentive to teachers willing to go to more isolated areas although not all positions will be suitable for new graduates.
Bonding won’t solve all problems with rural recruitment, particularly in health. It doesn’t address the need for more experienced professionals to supervise and mentor the new graduates, nor does it address the need to establish a career path in general hopsital medicine for doctors at rural hospitals, for example.
But it does deliver on election pledges and it is better use of scarce taxpayer dollars to target assistance to individuals in a way which benefits the wider community far more effectively than increased funding for undergraduates would.
Macdoctor is less impressed.