By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Health care is one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S.
Employment in the field is expected to grow by 14% from 2018 to 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, adding about 1.9 million new jobs, which is more than any other occupational group.
In Nebraska, the demand for health care workers is widespread, according to Brandon Drozd, who notes that shortages are “pretty much everywhere.”
“These careers are in high demand right now and we need to be thinking strategically about how to meet those workforce needs,” said Drozd, program coordinator for the Central Nebraska Area Health Education Center (AHEC), which focuses on recruiting and training health care professionals to serve the state.
At the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where Drozd and the Central Nebraska AHEC are based, there’s a new program designed specifically for students interested in health care careers.
The Health Science Explorers Learning Community, a partnership between UNK Health Sciences and Central Nebraska AHEC, is launching in fall 2020. The one-year residential learning community allows UNK students to learn more about health care professions while receiving support and guidance as they transition to college.
“So many students aren’t aware of just how many opportunities there are in health care,” said Drozd, who is coordinating the learning community. “By exposing them to these careers at an earlier stage, we can ensure students are taking the best path to professional success.”
The learning community is designed primarily for incoming freshmen, but it’s also open to transfer students. A declared major isn’t required to participate.
“If you have an interest in any type of health care, this is the opportunity for you,” Drozd said.
Students selected for the Health Science Explorers Learning Community will live together on a designated floor inside the Centennial Towers West residence hall, creating ready-made study groups and social connections among students with shared interests and classes. Each student will also be paired with an upperclassman mentor who lives in the learning community and studies health sciences.
“One of the biggest benefits of a learning community is that community aspect,” Drozd said. “Members are able to develop relationships with other students, faculty members and health sciences staff right away.”
During the fall semester, learning community participants will take the same “Opportunities in Health Sciences” course, allowing them to explore health care careers and pursue professional development experiences, including job shadowing, networking and career fairs. Drozd plans to bring in guest speakers from a variety of health care professions and schedule off-campus visits so students can see their work firsthand.
“Understanding those different roles and identifying which one is the right fit for you is really important,” Drozd said. “Hearing from health care professionals, asking them questions and seeing how they interact with patients is the best way to accomplish this.”
The Health Science Education Complex, a $19 million, state-of-the-art facility that opened in 2015 in collaboration with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, is another valuable resource for UNK students.
UNK’s Health Science Explorers Learning Community is modeled after the successful Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP) Learning Community, which is also coordinated by Drozd. Students from both learning communities will attend the same orientation, where they’re introduced to campus offices and resources.
Students interested in the Health Science Explorers Learning Community can apply online at unk.edu/hslc. The application deadline is March 1 for the 2020-21 academic year.
UNK HEALTH SCIENCES
With more than 750 students currently enrolled, health sciences is the largest academic department at UNK.
Over the last three years, more than 85% of UNK Health Sciences students have successfully completed their pre-professional program and gained acceptance into a professional school or clinical training program.
Health information management
Medical laboratory science