Maintaining and improving the health of the population, and meeting its health needs, falls on the shoulders of a health workforce of approximately 300 people, supplemented by visiting medical staff from other countries, particularly New Zealand and Australia.
The Cook Islands’ population is spread over a very wide area, with its fifteen islands totaling 240 square kilometers located in an area of 1.8 million square kilometers of ocean (comparable in size to that of India). Over 2000 to 2010, the Cook Islands had 12 doctors per 10,000 population (low compared to the Western Pacific region of 14.5 per 10,000, and globally of 14 per 10,000). The health workforce is also challenged with a highly dispersed population.
Medical officer and specialist workforce
Within the health workforce employed by the Ministry of Health, 26 operate as either medical officers or specialists. Specialists work in the fields of anaesthetics, obstetrics and gynaecology, general physician and general surgery. There is no psychiatrist based in Rarotonga, although one medical officer and two part-time psychologist is working in this role.
Specialists are defined as doctors who have completed advanced education and clinical training in a specific area of medicine (their specialty area), and are recognised by their professional society as a specialist. Note that specialist training differs between New Zealand, Australia and the Fiji School of Medicine. Graduates from the Fiji School of Medicine are able to practice in the Cook Islands, but they are not able to practice in New Zealand or Australia without further training and supervision. Because of the more advanced training, some supplemental specialist support is provided to the Cook Islands from Australia and New Zealand where existing specialties are already in place.
Some 116 nurses are employed in the Cook Islands, in different areas of activity or seniority. Breakdown of Nurses are Charge Nurse (8), Registered Nurse (51), Midwife (30), Nurse Practitioner (13), Mental Health Nurse (1), Public Health Nurse (13). Almost half (42%) are registered nurses. The average age of the nursing workforce is 43 years but varies widely across different areas of practice.
Allied health workforce
22 people are employed in allied health, including one dietician, 10 working in different capacities in laboratories, 6 in pharmacy, 2 radiologists, 1 Physiotherapist, 1 Theatre Technician, 1 Paramedic and the remainder in support or management roles.
20 people are employed in a variety of fields of dental health. Breakdown as: Dental Assistant (2), Dental Hygienist (1), Dental Officer (4), Dental therapist trainee (2), Management (1), Primary Oral Health Worker (5), Public health dental specialist (1), School dental therapist (2), Senior dental technician (1), Supervisor clinical dental (1).
Other areas of the health workforce
Other aspects of the Cook Islands health workforce include the following:
- 55 working in central policy, analysis, administration, health inspectors and health promotion
- 59 working in the services sector, including ambulance officers, infection control cleaners, cooks, grounds staff, and maintenance.