OMAHA, Neb. (Press Release) – A 2022 health workforce report released by the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) shows that the number of professional nurses in Nebraska has increased significantly and the number of practicing pharmacists has increased modestly since 2020 Despite these positive developments, rural areas in the state still lack the necessary health workers, and an aging health workforce across multiple disciplines threatens to exacerbate current shortages.
This and other key findings from the study appear in the report “The State of Nebraska’s Healthcare Workforce: Update 2022”.
“When health workers work in rural areas, they help deliver quality health care as close to home as possible. But they also create economic sustainability and vitality in the communities they live in, ”said Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, UNMC Chancellor. “The need has never been clearer: We must increase access to health workforce pipelines in rural Nebraska to improve the quality of life of all our communities, support economic sustainability and strengthen the number of health workers for decades. to come”.
The study, commissioned and funded by the Office of Rural Health Initiatives and the Nebraska Area Health Education Center Program (AHEC), used the most recent data from the UNMC Health Professions Tracking Service and the state of Nebraska. The report acknowledges the ongoing impact of the pandemic on healthcare workers and that shortages have exacerbated since the data was collected.
Studies have shown that pathway programs are important for proactively addressing current and anticipated shortcomings in rural and disadvantaged communities and that recruiting and training students from rural and disadvantaged areas and training them as closely as possible to such community, it’s a proven strategy to increase the likelihood they will return to those areas to practice.
Andy Craig, MD, a family physician in Minden, Nebraska, and a graduate of UNMC’s KHOP pathway program, said it’s important to identify and focus on students who want to get involved in rural health care. “Students who grew up in the countryside and want to stay in the countryside,” he said.
He pointed to the effort to expand medical education at the University of Nebraska on the Kearney campus as an important step in addressing rural health workforce access and access problems.
Pathway programs have helped in Nebraska, said Nicole Carritt, director of the UNMC Office for Rural Health Initiatives.
“Nearly 60 percent of the more than 700 graduates from UNMC’s Rural Health Opportunities Program (RHOP) and Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP) are practicing in rural Nebraska,” Carritt said.
He added that recent support from the Nebraska Legislature, including funding for the Healthier Rural Nebraska Initiative, a project that will expand UNMC’s health care programs at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, improves these rural training opportunities.
However, the challenges remain. One of the main areas of concern identified by the report: the aging of Nebraska’s healthcare workforce. A significant percentage of Nebraska dentists (26.9%), licensed practice nurses (20.6%), podiatrists (20%), physicians (19.4%), optometrists (18.6%) and registered nurses (17 , 2%) are in the pre-retirement age group aged 61 or older and may be at risk of leaving the workforce in the next 5-10 years. With the pandemic’s as yet unexplained side effects on workforce numbers, the need for innovation to increase the rural health workforce has only increased.
“The number of practicing dental health professionals has decreased since 2019,” he said. “Thirteen of Nebraska’s 93 counties don’t have a practicing primary care physician and 16 counties don’t have a pharmacist.”
Based on these findings, the report’s recommendations included improving existing pipeline programs and educational initiatives.
“We need to incentivize people in rural and disadvantaged urban areas to become health professionals and practice health care in these communities, especially for health professions that show significant shortages,” Carritt said. “With recent support from the legislator, the UNMC is positioning itself to continue providing solutions to these challenges.
“While this report provides important insights into the current number of health workers and the increases and losses over time, we are now beginning an additional analysis to better define the unique challenges and barriers related to the recruitment and retention of health workers in rural areas. . We understand that the rural health care and community landscape has changed significantly in recent years and detailed recommendations are needed to build the rural health workforce in Nebraska. “
The report looked at 20 primary health professions ranging from physicians and medical assistants to nurses, dentists and allied health professionals.
It also looked at the sex, age, race, and ethnicity of each health worker, as well as measuring the number and rate of health workers per 100,000 people per county.
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