Covid pandemic sparks interest in studying medical science

Kristin Hall
Source: 1News

The pandemic that's taken over our lives for the last two years does have at least one silver lining - it's sparked fresh interest in health science.

New Zealand universities that offer programmes in things like epidemiology, virology and medical laboratory science are reporting a boost in numbers, which some believe is directly linked to Covid-19.

Victoria University of Wellington says 2021 saw a 10 per cent increase in health and microbiology enrolments compared to 2020.

The University of Auckland's seen a 75 per cent increase in post-graduate enrolments for statistics in health science and a 23 per cent boost for epidemiology - the study of how and why diseases spread.

At the University of Otago, enrolments in medical laboratory science are up by 74 per cent compared to 2020, a boost the programme’s director Dr Tania Slatter is celebrating.

"We saw a big increase in students interested in medical laboratory science, the biggest increase we've seen since the programme started in the early 90s.

"It's certainly happened with Covid-19. I think for many students they weren't aware what medical lab scientists did. With Covid-19 they’ve seen it on the news, seen a lot on medical testing. It really highlights to people this is a profession that exists."

She says students are already in high demand, with some roped in to help with processing Covid-19 tests during this years’ lockdown.

"Many students will go directly into the New Zealand workforce which is great. We've had the UK trying to recruit students as well because there's a worldwide shortage of medical laboratory scientists."

University of Auckland epidemiologist and Head of Population Health Professor Robert Scragg is equally excited about the rise in interest from students.

"It's wonderful, when I started out in epidemiology it was very much a Cinderella profession. During my career it's become more and more important … it's moved very much to the centre of medicine and also to public health."

He says he hopes the fresh interest will also mean a boost in funding for epidemiology and related fields.

"What Covid has done is shone a light on public health in general. I think it's fair to say the whole area of public health has been underfunded for the last one or two decades.

"Our public health units have been struggling but now the public realise and the Government realises how important public health is."