KEARNEY — With 20% of doctors ready to retire and the COVID pandemic taking a toll on thousands of medical professionals, the outlook for medical care in Nebraska is bleak, but the situation is worse in rural Nebraska.
Because of the physician shortage, all but two counties in the a state are critical shortage areas. The counties that have an adequate number of doctors are metro Douglas and Lancaster counties, said Doug Kristensen, chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
Tuesday evening Kristensen told the Kearney City Council that in a couple of years the expansion of health science training opportunities at UNK will help reduce rural Nebraska’s critical shortage of medical professionals.
Doubling of offerings will be possible because UNK and the University of Nebraska Medical Center are collaborating to build and operate a second Health Science Education Complex at UNK.
The original HSEC opened in 2015 at UNK. Its mission is to train medical professionals from rural Nebraska to practice medicine in rural Nebraska. The concept appears to be working, Kristensen said, with 85% of HSEC students practicing in rural Nebraska rather than flocking to Nebraska’s urban centers.
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The second HSEC will be ready to go in about two years.
With $50 million in state assistance and $35 million in privately generated funds, the 115,000-square foot second HSEC will be churning out 40 students per year who will complete their medical degrees at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
The new HSEC that will be on a vacant tract north of the existing HSEC will help produce more medical professionals for rural Nebraska by training them in a rural setting.
“Eighty-five percent of the students who are training at the HSEC in rural Nebraska are staying in rural Nebraska,” Kristensen said.
He said as medical professionals and physicians practice in rural Nebraska they will make noticeable contributions to local economies. Medical professionals such as radiologists and technologists will boost activity by $250,000 per year and physicians will add $1.25 million in activity.
The influx of medical students will help change the face of UNK, Kristensen said. One of the major changes will be at the 104-acre University Village, where many of the medical professionals who train and teach at the new HSEC will reside.
University Village is taking shape on land southwest of the main UNK campus.
“It will change UNK, Kearney and rural Nebraska,” Kristensen said.
“It’s going to be a game changer for our community,” Mayor Stan Clouse said.
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