UNK establishes a new health academy to meet nationwide needs

TYLER ELLYSON UNK Communications

KEARNEY – Skyler Summers represents the future of healthcare in Nebraska.

The Shelton High School senior wants to work as a family doctor, a position that will allow her to directly impact patients of all ages and improve their lives.

“In Nebraska, 13 of the 93 counties lack any type of health care professional,” Summers said. “I know I could potentially fill that need.”

Summers plans to practice in rural Nebraska, where there is an urgent need for more doctors, dentists, psychotherapists, nurses, occupational therapists, speech therapists and other healthcare professionals.

“I know I want to stay in Nebraska,” she said. “It has always felt like home and I love the communities here.”

This mentality made her a perfect candidate for the University of Nebraska’s new Health Science Explorers Academy at Kearney. Launched earlier this year, the pipeline program aims to expand the state’s health workforce by providing high school students with education and career opportunities in the field.

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Sarah Bruner

“It’s so important that we get more students into healthcare because there’s such a shortage right now,” said Sara Bruner, coordinator of UNK’s Health Science Explorers program. “We want students to be excited about healthcare professions and the opportunities that exist in our country.”

Open to juniors and seniors, the Health Science Explorers Academy includes a mix of hands-on activities, simulations, guest speakers, field trips, and continuing education from UNK and the faculty of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Participants meet once a month from September to May and spend a full day on the UNK campus while learning about health sciences and different career paths.

“This is a chance for students interested in healthcare to come onto campus and delve a little deeper into some specific areas to identify their interests and hopefully lead them to a career they will love,” said Bruner.

This month’s meeting focused on communication disorders and behavioral health, and future topics include sports medicine, ophthalmic optics and medical imaging, and nuclear medicine. Attendees will also tour CHI Health Good Samaritan, explore UNMC programs at the on-campus Health Science Education Complex, and tour a medical helicopter while meeting with a flight nurse.

Summers enrolled in the academy to gain more experience in the medical field and broaden her understanding of other healthcare professions.

“Even though I know I want to be a doctor, I know I will learn about and interact with these other professions in my career, so having this background will serve me well in my future,” she said.

UNK Health Science Explorers

UNK Communication Disorders Professor Miechelle McKelvey, right, leads a session on Augmentative and Alternative Communication during the Health Science Explorers Academy. Kearney Catholic High School junior Trista Tool, left, and Shelton High School senior Skyler Summers are among the nine students enrolled in the health care-focused program.


Outside of the academy, Summers gained hands-on experience by gaining hands-on experience at First Care Medical in Kearney and the Butler County Clinic in David City, where her uncle works, and she will soon begin volunteering with CHI Health Good Samaritan.

She plans to visit UNK and will apply for the Kearney Health Opportunities Program, a collaboration between UNK and UNMC that recruits and trains students from rural Nebraska who have committed to practicing medicine in these fields. Participants receive a full 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 UNK first-year students, as well as a $2,000 room waiver.

Students who graduate from the Health Science Explorers Academy will receive a $400 tuition tuition for room and board at UNK. A total of nine students, all from rural communities, are part of the academy’s inaugural class.

“These are high school juniors and seniors who are coming home after college and can make a huge impact in their communities,” Bruner said. “You can find a job anywhere, regardless of the environment.”

For more information about the Health Science Explorers Academy, call 308-865-8144 or email [email protected]

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