A passion for rural health inspires new research student

College News
14 March 2019


Growing up in rural Whanganui has sparked a life-long passion for improving health outcomes in vulnerable communities for University of Otago student Ella Duxfield (Ngā Rauru, Kāi Tahu).

“I’m interested in rural communities that have a mainly Māori or Pacific population,” says Ella.

Recently she had the opportunity to contribute to rural health research, having been awarded a grant by the College’s Research and Education Charitable Trust.

The fourth year Human Nutrition student set out to determine the optimal placement length for undergraduate health student placements, focusing on benefits to the student and community.

Despite Ella undertaking a rigorous integrative review of hundreds of published articles, the research question proved difficult to answer as only a handful of studies looked at placement length and none were conducted in New Zealand.

Ella’s tentative conclusions were that longer placements (of several weeks or more) could possibly increase the likelihood of both a student’s intention to practice rurally and their early rural work location, however she is mindful of the limitations stated above. 

Distinguished Fellow Professor Sue Pullon supervised Ella in her research, and points out the strength of New Zealand’s medical education lies in the experience it offers students.

“The majority have clinical experience in regional, if not rural, areas that are distinct from their usual study location. Many placements are in primary care or community settings,” says Sue.

“By international standards, the clinical experience and supervision our students get from GP teachers is very good.”

One area in which New Zealand could improve is providing more students with an opportunity to participate in integrated, interprofessional placements, so they learn how to work in rural health care teams.  

“In order to do that, we have to better support and resource rural and regional practices – such as general practices and community pharmacies,” says Sue.

Ella also identified a key focus area for future rural health research: finding a definition for ‘rurality’ in New Zealand.

“If we want to inform policy here we can’t really base our research off international studies. Rural New Zealand is quite unique and not really comparable to other countries – according to the Rural, Remote and Metropolitan Areas Classification system, all but seven of New Zealand’s towns and cities are considered rural.”


If you’re interested in rural research, you may like to attend the 2019 Rural Health Research Day.

The College’s Research and Education Charitable Trust aims to foster the highest possible standards of learning and conduct in general practice, to create the best possible patient care in New Zealand. 

If you’d like to conduct research, submit an application for the next funding round before 26 March 2019. Find out more online.