A new graduate-entry medical school at the University of Waikato

In February 2024, the University of Waikato and Ministry of Health signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop a third New Zealand medical school in the Waikato region.

The University is now working with the Government on the next steps in establishing the medical school, including a business case, with a view to the first intake of 120 students starting in early 2027.

The new medical school will offer a graduate-entry curriculum, which is a proven model of medical education seen around the world. It will provide four years of intensive, practical medical education for students who have already completed a three-year undergraduate degree.

The establishment of a new graduate-entry medical school will provide a more targeted approach to meeting the health workforce needs of our community. It will focus on selecting students who are committed to careers in primary care and who come from underrepresented, underserved Māori, Pacific, remote and rural communities.

Why a third medical school is needed

New Zealand has a critical shortage of doctors, as demonstrated by unacceptably long wait times for an appointment with a GP, treatment at hospital emergency departments, and non-urgent surgery through the public health system.

We have one of the lowest ratios of medical schools, and of medical training places, relative to population, of any country in the OECD. We have one medical school for every 2.35 million people, while Australia has one primary medical school per 1.2 million people, and we have 109 first year medical school places per million people compared to Australia’s 160 places per million people. Our existing medical schools are already large by international standards and our population has doubled since the opening of our second medical school in 1968.

Consequently, we are more reliant on overseas-trained doctors than any other OECD country and the doctors we import from overseas make up a very high proportion of the primary care workforce in high-needs communities outside our main centres. This is especially true in specialties such as general practice, emergency medicine and psychiatry. We import 1,000 doctors annually, and most do not stay in New Zealand permanently. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, only 20% of our imported doctors were still in New Zealand five years after recruitment.

Why a new graduate-entry medical school is needed

New Zealand is acutely short of doctors in primary care, particularly outside the main centres, because of the student selection and training models in place in New Zealand through the two existing medical schools.

The international literature in medical education is very clear: health workforce outcomes are a function of how students are selected and where they train. A student from a small town is much less likely to aspire to work in their hometown after spending six years in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin. Similarly, if most of a student’s clinical experience occurs in a tertiary hospital, they are less likely to choose a primary care specialty. This is evidenced by just one in six graduates of the existing medical schools going on to become GPs.

The new graduate-entry medical school will have a commitment to primary care at its operational and philosophical core. Primary care practitioners work across a range of areas, including preventative medicine, chronic disease management, mental health, child health and emergency care medicine.

Establishing a graduate-entry medical school in New Zealand will deliver different workforce outcomes from the existing medical schools, improving access to healthcare for high-needs populations, and contributing to social and economic equity. It will provide a new model of medical education in New Zealand, with entry pathways that attract a more diverse range of students and clinical training opportunities that are closely aligned with our greatest medical workforce needs.