Sonographers are highly skilled health professionals who are strategically involved at the initial diagnostic stages of patient care and perform the majority of comprehensive medical diagnostic ultrasound examinations. Ultrasound as a specialty in qualified hands provides essential information to medical colleagues in a timely, cost effective, safe way, and will improve patient health outcomes if the profession has a well-directed training program in both theoretical and practical aspects.
In New Zealand, there is a severe shortage of sonographers with generalist and specialist skills, including cardiac sonographers. This shortage is nationwide, irrespective of geographic location.
The most significant barrier to addressing this shortage is the poor availability of sonographer clinical training placements. These placements are required for sonographers to become fully qualified and permitted to practise unsupervised. However, placements require significant investment of expertise, time, and material resources.
The shortage is further exacerbated in New Zealand, as Auckland University is the only university proving a course to train new general sonographers. Currently, there is no educational pathway in New Zealand to become a cardiac sonographer, leaving a crucial gap in this specialist workforce. This has been the case since the Australasian Society for Ultrasound in Medicine (ASUM) Diploma of Medical Ultrasound (DMU), which traditionally accounted for more than half of all New Zealand graduates, ceased in early 2019.
As a result of the small number of locally trained sonographers, New Zealand is becoming increasingly dependent on overseas-trained sonographers. This is a risky strategy and is unsustainable in the long term.
Bolstering the number of locally trained sonographers will provide more opportunities for innovative public health programs to ensure sonographers can serve communities where they are most needed. For instance, sonographers could be included more frequently as members of mobile multidisciplinary teams that visit rural districts to help identify health issues earlier, thereby improving health outcomes over the longer term.
1. To reduce the reliance on overseas-trained sonographers, New Zealand should increase its locally educated workforce. Solutions include increasing the enrolment capacity at Auckland University, or establishing a second course at another institution to increase numbers of sonography graduates.
Consideration should be given to establishing an educational pathway in cardiac sonography to address this specialist gap.
2. To address the issue of placements, the New Zealand government should provide support for initiatives to assist both private and public health services across the country to improve the availability of placements. This might include incentivisation measures, such as a Practice Incentive Program, to help ensure the viability of sites that are providing student placements.
Why the contribution is important
In New Zealand, there is a serious shortage of sonographers with generalist and specialist skills. The most significant barrier to addressing this shortage is the poor availability of sonographer clinical training placements. This is exacerbated by limited educational opportunities, now restricted to one university, which is creating an overreliance on overseas trained sonographers.
Without change, access to sonographer expertise will become increasingly scarce in New Zealand.
by SladeCarter on November 16, 2022 at 11:20AM