Holding a mirror to society? Progression towards achieving better sociodemographic representation among the university of Otago's professional students

Authors: Crampton P, Weaver N, Howard A

Reference: N Z Med J. 2018 Jun 8;131(1476):59-69

Summarised on:  2 August 2018

This paper sets out to describe the sociodemographic characteristics of students accepted into the University of Otago’s health professional programmes.

It updates a 2012 paper to show the progress towards increasing diversity in this student cohort.

In 2012, the University of Otago’s Division of Health Sciences adopted a policy to ensure the health professional programmes produce graduates who are equipped to meet the diverse needs of society.

The authors note that the sociodemographic profile of health professional students, in part, influence future career choices regarding the place of practice and types of populations served.

The researchers analysed anonymised summary data from the University’s central student records system, which included data on age, sex, ethnicity, home area, and student citizenship.

New Zealand population data were obtained from 2013 and 2016 estimates by Statistics New Zealand. Statistics New Zealand’s Urban/Rural Profile Classification was used to define ‘rural’.

Socioeconomic deprivation was measured using the NZDep2013 index, and student and NZ Dep datasets were linked.

Findings showed that between 2010 and 2016 there was:

  • a marked increase in the proportion of Māori (124% increase) and Pacific students (121% increase) in health professional programmes. This was more pronounced in medicine (increase of 179%) and dentistry (increase of 133%).
  • an increase in the proportion of students from rural areas from 19.2% to 22.5%; and
  • an increase in the proportion of female students from 59.6% to 61.3%.

The researchers noted with disappointment the little overall change in the overall socioeconomic profile. A large proportion of students came from socioeconomically advantaged areas. Only 3.4% of students had attended secondary schools with a socioeconomic decile of less than 4.

The researchers associate the encouraging increase in the diversity of the health professional student cohort between 2010 and 2016 with changes in the University’s selection policy.

However, they also note that external factors may influence the results, eg an increase in the number of tertiary-qualified Māori and Pacific students graduating from secondary schools.

The researchers hope the recent introduction of new affirmative categories will result in future increases in socioeconomic diversity and numbers of refugee students.

They note the implications of the increasing feminisation of some health professional student cohorts such as medicine and dentistry as a future challenge.


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