UNK launches new admission program for nursing students to meet rural needs

Sept. 21, 2022, 4 p.m. ·

A UNMC nursing student takes part in training at Kearney's facility
A UNMC College of Nursing student takes part in training at the UNK campus. UNK and UNMC teamed up to create a new admission pathway program for nursing students. (Photo courtesy University of Nebraska at Kearney)

The University of Nebraska at Kearney announced a new admissions program Tuesday designed to train more rural nurses in the state.

The program will guarantee UNK students who meet certain requirements a spot in the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s nursing program on the Kearney campus.

Peggy Abels, director of health sciences at UNK, said the program will streamline the students’ transition from their time as an undergraduate to professional school.

“The collaboration further ties the two institutions together,” Abels said. “Students can now come to UNK with the assurance that if they meet the criteria, they'll be accepted and be able to further their education and move on to UNMC.”

Dubbed the "Rural Pathway Program," the two universities said the program aims to address a dire shortage of nurses in Nebraska.

The pandemic only exacerbated a statewide nursing shortage that's continued to impact the state in recent years. The Nebraska Center for Nursing reported in January the state’s nursing workforce has decreased by 9.5% since 2018. In rural areas, already thin resources have disappeared. Nine counties in western and central Nebraska reported zero registered nurses in 2022. Four counties had just one nurse.

“We want to do everything we can to ensure that students that are interested in nursing have the support they need to be successful because we need them out practicing in our rural areas," Abels said.

To qualify for the new program, students must complete one semester at UNK, finish the prerequisite coursework and maintain a 3.3 minimum grade point average.

A nursing program near rural areas will be key to solving the workforce shortage, Abels said.

“Students will practice close to where they train," she said. "That's why it's so important that we collaborate with UNMC across all of these professions, nursing included, to be able to offer that education here in central Nebraska."

A digital rendering of the health complex in Kearney
Renderings of the UNK-UNMC Rural Health Education Building to be built on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus. (Photo courtesy UNK & UNMC)

The Kearney's branch of UNMC began expanding in 2015 after moving into a new building. This new program allows the existing facilities to increase class sizes and admit more students.

“This rural gateway will help ensure that we have a pipeline of well-prepared students to feed into that program," Abels said. "It all ties together in a larger plan to meet those workforce needs.”

The university will continue to expand its program to fight the nursing shortage. According to the Nebraska Center for Nursing, the state will have a shortage of 5,435 nurses by 2025. That same year, the university is scheduled to open a new building, the Rural Health Education Building.

That new complex will continue to expand the college’s existing health care programs and also open the possibility for adding colleges of medicine, pharmacy and public health. The University of Nebraska Board of Regents approved the $85 million project in August.