Artist’s rendering of the $85 million medical school proposed at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (Courtesy of University of Nebraska at Kearney)
OMAHA — Construction is to launch next month on the $85 million rural medical school being planned in Kearney. It’s an outward sign of Nebraska’s effort to grow the health care workforce in its rural communities.
Now the University of Nebraska Medical Center is building upon that initiative with a new, streamlined process to get more students, more quickly, into in-the-field clinical training sites across the state.
While the new step is more internal in nature, UNMC Chancellor Dr. Jeffrey Gold says he expects it to pay off with an increased number of homegrown health care professionals in rural communities.
The effort launched publicly in North Platte last week when Gold signed UNMC’s first so-called “master affiliation agreement” with Great Plains Health. The chancellor said more agreements are to come with other hospitals, urgent care centers and medical facilities from Omaha to Scottsbluff.
Gold described the agreements as a step up from the current process that places UNMC students into clinical spots where they gain real-life experience. He described it as an “umbrella” agreement that covers a wider gamut of specialties and positions.
“It’s a streamlined way to build rotations with many of our preferred clinical training sites across the state,” he said. “It creates better and faster opportunities.”
Gold said the planned Rural Health Education Building at the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus precipitated creation of the master affiliation agreement.
Omaha-based UNMC has had a facility at UNK since 2015 that offers nursing training and a variety of health profession education programs. The new 100,000-square-foot complex allows expansion of science-focused programs and launches new programs, including for budding physicians and pharmacists.
Expected to open in late 2025, the UNMC-UNK expansion project was boosted with $50 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding for capital construction, plus $10 million for iEXCEL technology startup costs.
The Nebraska Legislature also has committed operational funds to support faculty and staff, and the university committed to raising $35 million in private funding for construction.
Gold said he expects the expanded programming to increase the population of health care students in Kearney and surrounding communities from about 160 to more than 600 at any given time.
Those students will need clinical rotations in their specialty fields. Gold said the formula to getting them to practice in the state after graduation, particularly in rural areas, “is not subtle.” He said it involves paving the road to training at a place where students and staff have opportunity to get to know each other, which often leads to job offers.
“The natural tendency is that they will stay in a rural community,” Gold said.
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