By JOHN KINNON
UNMC Strategic Communications
The Health Workforce Report 2022, published by the University of Nebraska Medical Center, shows that the number of practicing nurses in Nebraska has increased significantly and the number of practicing pharmacists has increased moderately since 2020. Despite these positive development, the state’s rural areas still lack the necessary health care professionals, and the aging health care workforce in many disciplines threatens to exacerbate the current shortage.
This and other key findings from the study appear in the report “The State of the Healthcare Workforce in Nebraska: A 2022 Update.”
“When health professionals work in rural areas, they help ensure quality health care as close to home as possible. But they also create economic sustainability and vitality in the communities in which they live, ”said Dr. Jeffrey P. Gold, Chancellor of the UNMC. “The need has never been clearer: we need to increase access to health workers’ pipelines in Nebraska’s rural areas to improve the quality of life for all our communities, support economic sustainability and increase the number of health professionals for decades. forward. ”
The study, commissioned and funded by the Office of Rural Health Initiatives and the Nebraska Health Center Program (AHEC) Program, uses the latest data from the UNMC and Nebraska Health Care Oversight Service. The report acknowledges the continuing impact of the pandemic on the healthcare workforce and that the shortage has worsened since the data was collected.
Studies show that trail programs are important for proactively addressing current and expected shortages in rural and underserved communities, and that recruiting and educating and training students from rural and underserved areas as close as possible to these communities is a proven strategy for increasing likely they will return to these areas to practice.
Dr Andy Craig, a family medicine practitioner in Mindon and a graduate of the UNMC’s KHOP program, said it was important to identify and focus on students who want to be involved in rural health care. “Students who grew up in a rural area and want to stay rural.”
He cited efforts to expand medical education to the University of Nebraska on the Kearney campus as an important step in tackling rural health workers and access problems.
Pathway programs have helped in Nebraska, said Nicole Caritt, director of the UNMC’s Office of Rural Health Initiatives.
“Nearly 60 percent of the more than 700 graduates of the UNMC Health Capabilities Program (RHOP) and the Kearney Health Capabilities Program (KHOP) practice in rural Nebraska,” Carit said.
She added that recent support from the Nebraska Legislature, including funding for the Nebraska Healthier Rural Initiative, a project that will expand UNMC’s health programs at UNK, improves these rural learning opportunities.
However, the challenges remain. One of the main areas of concern the report identifies: the aging health workforce in Nebraska. A significant proportion of Nebraska dentists (26.9%), licensed general practice nurses (20.6%), pediatricians (20%), physicians (19.4%), optometrists (18.6%), and registered nurses 17.2%) are in the pre-retirement age group of 61 years or older and may be at risk of leaving the workforce in the next five to 10 years. With the pandemic effects on the workforce still unexplored, the need for innovation to boost the health workforce in rural areas is only growing.
“The number of dental practitioners has decreased since 2019,” Carit said. “Thirteen of Nebraska’s 93 counties do not have a primary care physician, and 16 counties do not have a pharmacist.
Based on these findings, the report’s recommendations include improving existing programs and educational initiatives.
“We need to encourage people from rural and underserved urban areas to become health professionals and practice health care in these communities, especially for health professions that show significant shortages,” Carit said. “With the recent support of the legislature, UNMC is committed to continuing to provide solutions to these challenges.
The report examines 20 professions in primary care, ranging from doctors and medical assistants to nurses, dentists and related health professionals. It also looks at the gender, age, race and ethnicity of each health professional, and measures the number and percentage of health professionals per 100,000 people in the county.