UNMC Combats Rural Healthcare Shortage with Pathway Program

June 17, 2022, 5 p.m. ·

The University of Nebraska Medical Center

A new report from the University of Nebraska Medical Center reinforces what others have been saying for a while- many rural Nebraska counties are suffering from a shortage of local medical professionals.

According to a new UNMC report, 13 of Nebraska’s 93 counties have no practicing primary care physician. 16 counties don’t have a pharmacist. As director of rural health initiatives at UNMC Nicole Carritt said, these counties and others, face serious shortages in coming years.

“We’ve got a significant amount of our health workforce, particularly in our rural communities, that are approaching retirement age in the next 5 to 10 years. We’ve got to be really thinking about ways we can address that, how we can bolster the pipeline,” she said.

One way that UNMC is working to bolster the rural health pipeline is through pathway programs. Carritt said programs like the Rural Health Opportunities Program identify high school seniors from rural communities who are interested in a health career, waive their undergraduate tuition at a Nebraska university, and provide admittance into training at a rural health institution.

“The students are passionate. And they have a unique interest in going back and serving their populations, their friends, their neighbors, their family,” she said

From over 700 UNMC pathway program graduates, nearly 60 percent are practicing in rural Nebraska. From dentists and OB/GYN’s to nurses and physicians, these students are providing local care to rural residents who otherwise wouldn’t have it.

Carritt said that pathway programs alone cannot fix the issue. However, their effectiveness will be measured in the next Nebraska healthcare workforce report in 2024.