A Central Otago health professional hopes her upcoming research will help address some of the inequities faced in the rural health sector. Pam Jones talks to Sarah Walker about a national fellowship she has received that will help her look into the challenges and complexities faced by rural allied health professionals.
A Central Otago physiotherapist will notch up a national first following health research she hopes will help all rural communities.
Sarah Walker has just been named a recipient of a Health Research Council of New Zealand Clinical Research Training Fellowship.
The $204,000 fellowship will allow Mrs Walker, who is a physiotherapist for Central Otago Health Services (Cohsl), which operates from Dunstan Hospital, to begin a doctorate at the University of Otago next year.
Not only will the research help inform future development and training of the rural health workforce, it will also make her New Zealand’s only rurally based clinical academic physiotherapist.
Cohsl general manager Dr Kathryn de Luc said Mrs Walker’s fellowship was a “great achievement” for Mrs Walker personally and professionally, and would help find solutions to the health inequities experienced by those in Central Otago and the Upper Clutha district.
Mrs Walker’s studies will investigate the scope of practice, challenges and complexities experienced by rural allied health professionals.
She said her research would be the “first step in addressing the skills shortage in rural areas and reducing the huge disadvantages faced by rural communities when it comes to accessing healthcare”.
“Of all the geographic categories, New Zealand’s rural towns have the lowest socioeconomic status, highest proportion of Maori, and highest avoidable mortality rates. Yet, despite the higher health needs, rural residents have poorer access to health services and greater costs in accessing these services, which is largely due to workforce shortages in rural areas.”