By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Skyler Summers represents the future of health care in Nebraska.
The Shelton High School senior wants to work as a primary care physician, a position that allows her to directly impact patients of all ages and help improve their lives.
“In Nebraska, 13 of the 93 counties lack any kind of primary care professional,” Summers said. “I know that I could possibly fill that need.”
Summers plans to practice in rural Nebraska, where there’s an urgent demand for more doctors, dentists, mental health practitioners, nurses, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and other health care professionals.
“I know that I want to stay in Nebraska,” she said. “It’s always felt like home and I love the communities around here.”
That mentality made her a perfect candidate for the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s new Health Science Explorers Academy. Launched earlier this year, the pipeline program aims to expand the state’s health care workforce by exposing high schoolers to educational and career opportunities in the field.
“It’s so important that we get more students into the health care workforce because there’s such a shortage right now,” said Sara Bruner, coordinator of UNK’s Health Science Explorers program. “We want students to get excited about health care professions and the opportunities that exist in our state.”
Open to juniors and seniors, the Health Science Explorers Academy includes a mix of hands-on activities, simulations, guest speakers, field trips and advanced education from UNK and University of Nebraska Medical Center faculty. Participants meet once a month from September through May and spend a full day on the UNK campus while learning about health sciences and various career paths.
“This is a chance for students who are interested in health care to come on campus and do a little bit more of a deep dive into some specific areas to identify their interests and hopefully guide them to a profession they’re going to love,” Bruner said.
This month’s meeting focused on communication disorders and behavioral health, and future topics include sports medicine, optics of the eye and medical imaging and nuclear medicine. Participants will also tour CHI Health Good Samaritan, explore UNMC programs at the Health Science Education Complex on campus and check out a medical helicopter while meeting with a flight nurse.
Summers signed up for the academy to get more experience in the medical field and expand her understanding of other health care professions.
“Even though I know I want to be a physician, I know that I’ll experience these other professions and interact with them in my career, so having that background knowledge will benefit me in my future,” she said.
Outside the academy, Summers gained hands-on experience by job shadowing at First Care Medical in Kearney and Butler County Clinic in David City, where her uncle works, and she’ll soon start volunteering at CHI Health Good Samaritan.
She plans to attend UNK and will apply for the Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP), a collaboration between UNK and UNMC that recruits and trains 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.
Students who complete the Health Science Explorers Academy earn a $400 room and board scholarship at UNK. A total of nine students, all from rural communities, are part of the inaugural academy class.
“These are high school juniors and seniors who can go back home after college and make a major impact in their communities,” Bruner said. “They can find a job anywhere, regardless of the setting.”
For more information on the Health Science Explorers Academy, call 308-865-8144 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following students, listed by high school, are part of the UNK Health Science Explorers Academy:
Amherst – Aubrey Lambertus
Central City – Autum Hewitt
Central City – Lillyauna Longoria-Hanson
Chambers – Brianna Klabenes
Kearney Catholic – Alex Abels
Kearney Catholic – Trista Tool
Kearney High – Emily Korb
Shelby-Rising City – Ellie Frederick
Shelton – Skyler Summers