OMAHA, Nebraska (press release) — The 2022 Health Workforce Report released by the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) shows that the number of nurse practitioners in Nebraska has increased significantly and the number of pharmacist practitioners has slightly increased since 2020. As a result of these positive developments, the state’s rural areas continue to lack the health professionals they need, and an aging health workforce in various fields threatens to exacerbate the current shortage.

This and other key findings of the study are presented in the report. “Nebraska Health Workforce Status: 2022 Update”.

“When health workers work in rural areas, they help provide quality health care as close to home as possible. But they also create economic resilience and vitality in the communities where they live,” said Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, Chancellor of UNMC. “The need has never been clearer: we must expand access to the health workforce in rural Nebraska to improve the quality of life for all of our communities, support economic resilience, and increase the number of healthcare workers for decades to come.”

The study, commissioned and funded by the Office of Rural Health Initiatives and the Nebraska Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Program, used the most recent data from the UNMC Health Professions Tracker and the State of Nebraska. The report acknowledges the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the health workforce and that the shortage has worsened since the data was collected.

Research has shown that preparatory programs are important to actively address current and expected shortages in rural and underserved communities, and that recruiting and educating students from rural and underserved areas and educating them as close to these communities as possible is a proven strategy to increase the likelihood they will return. to these areas to practice.

Andy Craig, MD, a family medicine practitioner in Minden, Neb., and a UNMC KHOP alumnus, said it’s important to identify and target students who want to get involved in rural health care. “Students who grew up in the countryside and want to stay in the countryside,” he said.

He cited efforts to expand medical education at the University of Nebraska on the Kearney campus as an important step in addressing staffing and access problems in rural areas.

Pathway programs have helped in Nebraska, says Nicole Carritt, director of UNMC’s Office of Rural Health Initiatives.

“Nearly 60 percent of the more than 700 UNMC Rural Health Opportunities Program (RHOP) and Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP) alumni practice in rural Nebraska,” Carritt said.

She added that recent support from the Nebraska Legislature, including funding for the Healthy Rural Nebraska Initiative, a project that will expand UNMC health care programs at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, is expanding learning opportunities in rural areas.

However, problems remain. The report identified one of the main areas of concern: Nebraska’s aging healthcare workforce. A significant proportion of Nebraska dentists (26.9%), licensed practical nurses (20.6%), orthopedists (20%), physicians (19.4%), optometrists (18.6%), and registered nurses (17.2% ) are in retirement age. a group of people aged 61 and over who may be at risk of leaving the labor force in the next 5–10 years. Given the yet-to-be-explored impacts of the pandemic on the workforce, the need for innovation to boost the rural health workforce has only increased.

“The number of practicing dentists has decreased since 2019,” she said. “13 of Nebraska’s 93 counties do not have a primary care practitioner, and 16 counties do not have a pharmacist.”

Based on these findings, the report’s recommendations included improvements to existing programs and educational initiatives.

“We need to encourage people from rural and underserved urban areas to become health professionals and practice health care in these communities, especially for health professions that are in significant shortage,” Carritt said. “With recent legislature support, UNMC is positioning itself to continue to offer solutions to these problems.

“While this report provides important insights into the current number of healthcare workers and how they increase and decrease over time, we are now starting additional analysis to better identify the unique challenges and barriers associated with recruiting and retaining healthcare providers. services in rural areas. We understand that healthcare and the landscape of rural communities has changed significantly over the past few years, and detailed guidance is needed to build the healthcare workforce in rural Nebraska.”

The report looked at 20 primary health care professions, ranging from doctors and paramedics to nurses, dentists and allied health workers.

It also took into account the gender, age, race, and ethnicity of each health worker, and measured the number and proportion of health workers per 100,000 people by county.

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