KEARNEY – The continuing shortage of healthcare workers is a regular topic of discussion for Sarah Barfknecht.
It comes up during her classes at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where she studies business administration and healthcare management, and in her work as a human resources intern at Kearney Regional Medical Center.
“There are definitely a lot of open positions,” said Barfknecht. “I don’t know if there will ever be enough people to meet the demand.”
A 2020 report from the University of Nebraska Medical Center outlines the challenges:
– 14 of the state’s 93 counties do not have a primary care physician
– All counties except Douglas and Lancaster are designated as areas of shortage for at least one type of primary care
– Areas such as occupational therapy and audiology face continued shortages and more nurses are needed in rural areas
– About 20% of nurses, dentists and doctors in the state are over 60 and nearing retirement
The good news is that this means there are countless opportunities for young people to pursue these high paying, high impact careers.
Nationally, health care employment is expected to increase 16% over the next decade, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, adding about 2.6 million new jobs over the course of of this period, more than any other occupational group.
âThere is a lot of job security in healthcare, and we know it’s not going to go away. In fact, the need keeps growing. We need more people to practice health care in rural Nebraska, âsaid Julie Calahan, UNK’s Health Science Explorers program coordinator.
Part of the Department of Health Sciences, the UNK program aims to address this problem by introducing more high school and high school students to careers and educational pathways in health.
On September 29, about 400 high school students from across the state were on campus for the annual health careers fair, the largest event hosted by the department.
Students from nearly 100 schools were able to meet employers and representatives of vocational schools while learning more about UNK and its academic programs. They also participated in small group sessions focusing on medical laboratory science, exercise science and nutrition, mental and behavioral health, and nursing.
Hana Mach, counselor at Wilcox-Hildreth Public School, brought three students to the event.
âBeing in a rural area, I know we need more students to embark on health careers and come back and serve our regions, because a lot of our people have to drive to get quality health services,â she declared.
Wilcox-Hildreth offers courses in anatomy and physiology, as well as a two-year health sciences course. The Health Career Fair has expanded these classroom lessons by giving students the chance to explore a variety of careers while networking with professionals in the field.
Mach thinks the exhibition is âhugeâ for the students.
âI think every experience we can give them is really important,â she said.
For employers, the Health Career Fair was the perfect place to connect with their future talent pool.
âIt’s great to have our name known,â said Barfknecht, who represented Kearney Regional Medical Center at the event.
The senior UNK from Hastings landed her internship after attending a career fair on campus, so she understands how important these interactions can be.
âYou just don’t know a lot of options that are out there,â Barfknecht said.
Mandy Sand, who works in human resources at Lexington Regional Health Center, made the same point. The demand for healthcare workers extends far beyond doctors and nurses, she noted.
âYou can be a physiotherapist, but we also need physiotherapy assistants. You can be a surgical nurse, but we also need cleaning technicians. There are so many levels within these departments that you just don’t know or are just not talked about enough, âsaid Sand.
And, she added, all of these positions offer a good starting salary and full benefits.
Events like the Health Career Fair are part of UNK’s plan to create a “talent pool” that encourages Nebraska students to study and work in the state.
âWe know we have to provide health care statewide,â Calahan said. âIf we can do it here at UNK by creating exploratory programs for high school students who take this route and come back to practice in rural Nebraska, then we’ve done our part. It is a success.