By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – More than 300 students from 54 different high schools gathered Wednesday at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and they all have one thing in common.
They’re interested in health care careers.
Joined by an additional 150 current UNK students, these future doctors, dentists, nurses, physical therapists and pharmacists came together for the annual Health Careers Fair on campus.
Organized by UNK Health Sciences, the event gives attendees an opportunity to meet with employers and representatives from various professional schools while learning about UNK and its academic programs. It’s part of the Health Science Explorers program, a UNK initiative that addresses the ongoing need for health care workers by introducing more middle and high school students to these careers and educational paths.
“There’s such a shortage of health care professionals right now, and high school is the age when students are really trying to decide where they want to go to school and what their major is going to be. We want to show them all the different possibilities and hopefully guide more people to those health care professions,” said Sara Bruner, coordinator of the Health Science Explorers program.
Representatives from UNK and other postsecondary schools across the state and region were on hand to share information about training programs and several area health care providers were available to answer questions and discuss employment opportunities. Students also participated in breakout sessions focusing on job shadowing, nursing, medical laboratory science and radiography.
Allisen Jelinek, a senior at Aquinas Catholic High School in David City, already plans to pursue a career in pharmacy, so she was focused on learning more about the next step in her education.
Jelinek wants to attend UNK, following in the footsteps of her mother Amy, who works as a pharmacist at Butler County Health Care Center, and she’s interested in the Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP). A collaboration between UNK and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, KHOP is available to students from rural Nebraska who are committed to practicing in these areas as medical professionals. Participants receive a full-tuition scholarship to attend UNK and guaranteed admission to UNMC if all requirements are met. The KHOP Learning Community provides additional support, mentoring and professional development opportunities for first-year UNK students, along with a $2,000 room waiver.
Back in David City, Jelinek is preparing for her career by job shadowing at a local pharmacy.
“That experience is really valuable because it kind of solidifies whether or not you want to go into a specific area,” she said.
At Gothenburg High School, guidance counselor Jerry Wiggins is seeing more and more students interested in health care.
“And there’s a big need throughout the country,” he noted.
Wiggins brought eight seniors to the UNK Health Careers Fair, an event he’s been attending since its inception. He wants to expose students to a broad range of options in higher education and get them thinking about college.
“For some of our students, it’s the first time they’ve actually stepped on a college campus,” Wiggins said. “That opportunity just to walk around a college campus serves a purpose for them.”
For employers like CHI Health, the career fair is the perfect place to connect with their future talent pool and promote their positions.
“This event allows us to make those connections and show students there are lots of different job opportunities available in health care,” said Jill England, who recruits for CHI Health Good Samaritan in Kearney and CHI Health St. Francis in Grand Island.
In addition to high wages and job stability, the health care industry offers another perk many careers can’t. It allows employees to truly impact others and help improve their lives.
“If that’s something that really drives you, then health care is definitely the place for you,” England said.
PHOTOS BY ERIKA PRITCHARD, UNK COMMUNICATIONS