I have just got back from the 2008 New Zealand Rural General Practice Network conference in Christchurch. It was a very interesting conference more because of the themes that ran through it, as opposed to the actual sessions themselves.
The first thing that was painfully obvious was the complete lack of midwifery presence. The Network was set up for GPs, and nurses are now becoming very influential in the organisation. It would be very interesting to see how midwifery could contribute because we all do face the same challenges in the rural context. However, whilst I do believe there is a lot of positives that can be achieved by collaborative inter-professional teamwork, it is really important that the team consists of equal partners, with no one profession constantly taking the lead (and power).
The second thing that struck me was how more and more education is taking place in rural communities - medical, nursing and midwifery. The rationale for this is that if you educate people in rural communities, they are more likely to stay there and practice. There are a number of issues that arise from this strategy.
The first is the pressure on clinical opportunities. Whilst there should not be too much of a clash for midwives, we are already being affected by the placement of medical students in some rural communities. This may prove to be more and more problematic as time goes on. So I think it is going to be really important to communicate with the other professions about this matter. The second implication is resources in the community such as study space, computers and clinical laboratories. This could be an opportunity for pooled resources and teaching collaboration.
Another theme was the pressure on rural medical teachers. They commit much time and energy to teaching medical students and junior doctors without little or no recompense. And the effect is that they are getting burnt out and cannot commit the time alongside their own busy clinical practices. I think it is going to be really important that we learn from the medical experience and think carefully about how we are going to support our midwifery teachers in the learning communities that we are going to set up in our new midwifery program. Relying on good will just will not be enough.
The final theme was the interest in online education and professional development. I was surprised at the interest in my talk on e-mentoring. Whilst there are still a number of barriers to online activities in the rural communities in New Zealand, not least access to decent Internet coverage, there appears to be recognition that e-learning does overcome geographical isolation. The trick now is how to harness that interest and develop education programs that really meet the needs of rural practitioners.
For me, the value of this conference has been to bring my thoughts back from Australia to New Zealand and consider what research, professional and funding opportunities there are in the areas of professional development and e-mentoring, especially in the rural context here. I am left to think about how midwives can contribute to the wider discussions of sustainability of rural health care. And I also have been encouraged to think about the personal networking I can do for my own career development.
Image: Seagulls in Christchurch.
Sorry about the boring image: I was stuck for picture of Christchurch because FlickrCC was 'down' and the 'seagulls' photo was the only Christchurch-related one that I had!