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Original Research

Does the positive influence of an undergraduate rural placement persist into postgraduate years?

Submitted: 15 November 2011
Revised: 9 March 2012
Published: 19 June 2012

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Author(s) : Williamson MI, Wilson R, Mckechnie R, Ross J.

Martyn WilliamsonRoslyne MckechnieJim Ross

Citation: Williamson MI, Wilson R, Mckechnie R, Ross J.  Does the positive influence of an undergraduate rural placement persist into postgraduate years? Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2012; 12: 2011. Available: (Accessed 18 October 2017)


Introduction:  Medical schools worldwide are playing a role in addressing the shortage of rural health practitioners. Selection of rural-origin students and long-term rural undergraduate placements have been shown to have a positive influence on a subsequent career choice of rural health. Evidence for the impact of short-term rural placements is less clear. In New Zealand, the Otago University Faculty of Medicine introduced a 7 week rural undergraduate placement at the Dunedin School Of Medicine, one of its three clinical schools, in 2000. A study of the first two annual cohorts showed a positive influence of the course on student attitudes to rural health and their intention to practise in a rural setting. The purpose of this study was to test whether or not these effects persisted into postgraduate years.
Method:  The original study cohorts were posted a questionnaire (questions worded identically to the original survey) in 2009 (5th and 6th postgraduate years). Non-responders were followed up after 2 months. Graduates from the same year cohort at the two other Otago clinical schools (Christchurch and Wellington) were also surveyed.  In addition to analysis by question, principal component analysis (PCA) identified 3 questions which represented the influence of the medical undergraduate program on students’ attitudes towards rural general practice. This was used as an index of influence of the undergraduate curriculum.
Results:  There was a statistically significant difference among graduates from Dunedin and the other two schools in reporting a positive influence towards rural practice from the undergraduate course.When asked how the medical undergraduate program influenced their attitude towards a career in rural practice, 56% of respondents from Dunedin reported a positive influence compared with 24% from Christchurch and 15% Wellington. This effect was less strong than that obtained immediately after the rural placement where 70% of Dunedin based students reported a positive influence. The index value for positive effect on attitudes was significantly higher for respondents who studied at Dunedin than at Wellington (mean index value 0.552 for Dunedin, -0.374 for Wellington t=4.172, p=0.000) or Christchurch (mean index value -0.083 for Christchurch t=2.606, p=0.011). There was no significant difference between Christchurch and Wellington (t=1.420, p=0.160). There was no significant difference among schools in the proportion of graduates who had worked or intended to work in rural general practice at any point in their career (24% Dunedin, 31% Christchurch, 16% Wellington (Phi=0.160, p=0.178).
Most of the literature on the influence of rural undergraduate placements, especially short term placements, examines immediate changes. This study adds to the evidence by showing that positive effects from a rural undergraduate placement persist into the postgraduate years, although that in isolation is unlikely to result in a significant workforce effect. Further investigation is warranted into which features of the undergraduate placement result in an extended positive effect on student attitudes.

Key words: curriculum, health manpower, medical students, New Zealand, rural health services, undergraduate medical education.

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