By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Erin Huddleston recognizes the impact health care providers have on their patients.
The Kearney Catholic junior was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that damages the lungs and digestive system. She’s been around doctors and other medical professionals her entire life and felt the joy they can bring to people struggling with a medical issue.
“I want to help others have that same feeling,” she said.
Huddleston knows she wants to work in the health care field, but she hasn’t picked a specific profession yet. That’s one of the reasons why she signed up for the Health Science Explorers summer camp hosted by the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
“I figured coming here would open my eyes a little bit,” said Huddleston, one of 20 students from a dozen communities who attended Friday’s event at the Bruner Hall of Science on campus.
Organized by UNK Health Sciences, the camp gave high schoolers a chance to learn more about health care careers and UNK programs while participating in hands-on activities. They studied the circulatory system using beef hearts and lungs, practiced physical therapy exercises and gave suturing a try.
There was also a panel discussion featuring area providers from a variety of medical professions.
Julie Calahan, coordinator of the Health Science Explorers program, said the goal is to generate increased interest in the health care field and expose students to career opportunities.
“At the end of the day, if they learned something new or have a newfound interest in a health science career, then it’s been a success,” she said.
The summer camps are part of a larger UNK program designed to grow Nebraska’s health workforce and address an urgent need for more medical professionals across the state.
Nationwide, employment in the health care field is expected to grow by 15% from 2019 to 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, adding about 2.4 million jobs during that time – more than any other occupational group.
In Nebraska, there’s already a shortage of health care workers, particularly in rural areas.
“There’s a continuous need for people to work in these fields,” Calahan said. “Many hospitals and clinics are struggling to find staff.”
UNK’s Health Science Explorers program will help meet this demand by connecting with students earlier in their academic careers and creating a “talent pipeline” for the state.
The program starts in middle school, when seventh and eighth graders are invited to campus for Health Science Explorers Days that introduce them to the possibility of pursuing a professional career in this area. Things get more in-depth from there.
High schoolers can attend summer camps, career fairs and other campus events, allowing them to enroll at UNK with a clearer picture of their preferred path.
Students who choose a professional program offered by the University of Nebraska Medical Center can apply for the Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP), which provides full-tuition scholarships to UNK and guaranteed admission into UNMC, assuming all requirements are met. KHOP is available to students from rural Nebraska who are committed to practicing there.
UNK also has residential learning communities for KHOP and other health science students, who receive additional support and guidance as they transition to college. This includes mentorship, career exploration and academic and professional development experiences such as job shadowing, networking and internships.
Other resources are available through the Central Nebraska Area Health Education Center based at UNK, as well as the university’s partnerships with UNMC and area health care providers.
Ultimately, Calahan wants to see students transition from UNK to UNMC, then into a job somewhere in the state.
“We want to keep them here,” she said. “There are so many rural areas across Nebraska that need people to fill these roles.”
HEALTH SCIENCE EXPLORERS CAMP
It’s not too late to sign up for UNK’s Health Science Explorers summer camp.
Additional sessions are scheduled for July 8 at the UNK campus and July 13 at College Park in Grand Island. Each camp runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and includes a light breakfast, lunch and snacks.
The camp costs $50 per student, with registration available online at unk.edu/explorers. The registration deadline is two weeks prior to each camp date.
For more information, contact Health Science Explorers coordinator Julie Calahan at 308-865-8144 or firstname.lastname@example.org.