Rants, Raves, Reviews

Our Best and Brightest

By Gary R, in , posted: 23-Aug-2007 10:48

My 8 year old niece was recently selected to take part in a special school class once a week because she is a bit of a genius. The idea of the special class is to educate her to a higher level beyond what she would learn at her current school age. This is great news for my niece and it is good to see that educators have taken an interest in her academic progress. What concerns me though is that this special class costs money, it is not a huge amount at $50 per week but why is there a charge at all? I can imagine that if my niece was struggling at school and from a lower socio economic family there would be any number of government agencies rolling out the 'funding' red carpet, but being an achiever from a middle class family there is no assistance.

This scenario is typical of how we treat our smartest people. You only have to look at our woeful health system to see what happens to our young, debt burdened doctors. Over half of our medical students accumulate $70,000 debt by the time they graduate. A study published by the NZ Medical Journal in 2001 showed a distinct correlation between increasing debt and the medical students' intentions to both practice medicine overseas and to choose other specialties besides a general practice. It is a well known fact that we face a shortage of doctors and that people are facing longer and longer waiting lists for specialty care or surgery. My mother currently requires surgery to correct a joint in her leg. She has now been bumped four times from the waiting list because her condition is 'non life threatening'. So far the wait to even see a specialist has been over 4 months. Sure, she isn't going to die from her condition but it definitely affects her quality of life.

It is hard to get the exact current figures but indications are that our urban doctor to patient ratio is approximately 1:1230 (based on 2004 figures) where as our rural ratio is in some cases up to 1:2000. When compared to Cuba our ratio figures are abysmal. In 1970 Cuba had a ratio of 1:1393 (similar to our current figures) that decreased to 1:159 in 2005. Not only do Cuba have a much better ratio but they also 'export' this model through medical diplomacy initiatives. The difference between Cuba and New Zealand is that medical training in Cuba is free. Sure, the graduates do not earn a lot of money relatively speaking but they do not graduate with debt.

I am not a health industry expert but fixing the problem does not seem that hard. Logically it would make sense to introduce free education for anyone wanting to become a doctor. Subsidising $70K in student expenses does not seem like a lot of money when you consider the benefits to our country. I am sure that a medical student would be more inclined to stay and continue to practice in NZ if they didn't have to start out with such a crippling debt burden. Would it be that difficult to introduce a system where the debt is held in escrow and the student has to commit to practicing in NZ for 5 years after graduation? At the end of the 5 years we wipe the debt, if the student decides to go overseas after 5 years it shouldn't be a problem. If they do not finish the 5 year commitment then they are liable for the debt.

A couple with 2 kids earning $36K per year is rewarded with an extra $193 per week by the government but a student committed to becoming a doctor is burdened with $70K in debt. This is the irony, at some stage all families need a doctor.

Other related posts:
I Smell a Conspiracy
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Welcome to Vuestar

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Comment by Robz, on 23-Aug-2007 11:45

Good point - but why only medical staff? I have often wondered about the teaching profession as well. They graduate with an average debt of $25k and less capability to repay, i.e. they earn less than a doctor.

The other thing about the teacher profession is that people are more prepared to question their judgment. If I go to a doctor and they tell me I have the flu, I believe them and do not question it. Yet I have seen parents prepared to go to schools and question teachers about the grades given to a student... Maybe if we paid teachers more we would be more prepared to accept the assessment.

BTW - I am not and never have been a teacher...

Comment by lugh, on 23-Aug-2007 13:07

Mate, I'm sick of being part of the "lost" middle-class. To quote American prison parlance... "We got nothin' coming!"

Congrats for your niece!

Comment by Rajita, on 23-Aug-2007 16:12

I think we are trying to be too kind and forgetting that to succeed in life,one needs to be competitive..Good education and academic excellence needs to be rewarded as much as sports and physical prowess.I think its sad that kiwi youngsters are not encouraged to think from a global viewpoint where they will need to compete with the world.AS world is shrinking fast due to internet technology,a silent revolution is taking place which erasing all boundaries.We need to prepare our youngsters with sound education and encourage them to develop careers instead of wasting life in drugs and drinks www.logodesignnewzealand.co.nz

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Gary R
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