By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Sophia Novoselov is a people person.
She loves to interact with others and make a difference in their lives.
That’s why the junior at Raymond Central High School is interested in a health care career.
“You can form personal relationships and you can make people feel OK,” she said. “It’s like you give a piece of yourself to the patients.”
Novoselov started working at Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln a few months ago and she’s completing classes to become a certified nursing assistant. Long-term, though, she’s not sure which medical field is the best fit for her.
“I’m kind of all over the place,” said Novoselov, who’s interested in surgery, chiropractic, physical therapy and other areas. “I want to know more about each profession before deciding exactly what I want to do.”
She had the opportunity to explore a variety of options during the annual Health Careers Fair on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus. More than 300 students from 50-plus high schools attended Wednesday’s event, where they met with health care providers, learned about UNK programs and professional schools and participated in hands-on sessions focusing on occupational therapy, medical nutrition and medical lab science/radiography.
Organized by UNK Health Sciences, the event is part of the Health Science Explorers program, an initiative that grows the state’s health care workforce by introducing more middle and high school students to these careers and educational paths.
“There’s a huge need for health care professionals right now, especially in rural settings,” said Sara Bruner, coordinator of the Health Science Explorers program. “There’s a need for nurses, for physicians, for pharmacists, for X-ray techs, for medical lab scientists. Pretty much anywhere a person wants to work – both large and small towns – they can find a job because there’s such a demand for health care workers.”
In addition to Kearney, employers came from Lincoln, Omaha, Beatrice, North Platte and other communities to connect with students.
Kylie Christensen, a respiratory therapist at Phelps Memorial Health Center in Holdrege, was encouraged to see so many young people interested in health care careers.
“In order for us to take care of our patients, we need these people,” she said. “We’re not going to be around forever, so we need the next generation of people to move up.”
During the Health Careers Fair, Christensen promoted a wide range of positions students can pursue along with opportunities to job shadow at the critical access hospital or participate in a tuition-reimbursement program offered there. When those connections are created early on, students are more likely to return to a community after professional school.
“We’re a rural hospital in a smaller community, so a lot of times we’re easily forgotten,” Christensen said. “It’s nice for us to be at an event like this where we can really get our name out there.”
The event also serves as a recruitment tool for UNK, which offers more than 20 pre-professional programs along with degrees in health science, communication disorders, athletic training, mental health counseling and other health care-related fields.
The University of Nebraska Medical Center operates the Health Science Education Complex on the UNK campus, and the partner institutions are working together to open a new Rural Health Education Building that allows even more students to complete their education and training in Kearney. Another UNK-UNMC collaboration, the Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP), provides full-tuition scholarships and other support to students who are committed to practicing in rural Nebraska as medical professionals. KHOP and the Health Science Explorers program both offer learning communities that allow students to live, study and socialize together while receiving mentorship and professional development opportunities.
“That’s something that is unique and special about UNK. We really stick with you during that transition from high school to college to help students be as successful as possible,” said Bruner, who attended UNK, earned a degree in radiologic technology and worked in health care for 17 years before joining the Department of Health Sciences.
She hopes events like the Health Careers Fair ignite a spark in students and help lead them down a rewarding professional path.
“Health care is something that affects all of us. Whether directly or indirectly, we’re all going to need a health care provider at some point in our life,” she said. “So it’s very exciting to me to see this many young people interested in these professions.”