The people behind the Health Science Education Complex in Kearney believe that, if health professionals receive their entire education outside of Omaha, they’ll be more likely to work in other parts of the state.
“That’s what we’re banking on, is the big return for the state,” said Greg Karst, assistant dean for academic and student affairs at the University of Nebraska Medical Center School of Allied Health Professions.
The Health Science Education Complex is under construction on the corner of Highway 30 and University Drive, on the west edge of the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus. The two-story building, totaling 23,000 square feet, is a collaboration between UNMC and UNK.
The Health Science Education Complex will house the first UNMC allied health program established outside of Omaha.
Although undergraduates will be part of Kearney’s UNMC School of Allied Health Professions, most of the students will be working on graduate degrees.
UNK officials are especially excited about the arrival of physical therapy, physician assistant and clinical lab science programs.
The school will be able to admit many highly qualified students who receive bachelor’s degrees not just from UNK, but also other colleges, including Chadron State and Wayne State, said Charlie Bicak, UNK’s senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.
Bicak said many graduates of Kearney’s UNMC facility will take jobs in the Tri-Cities, as well as Broken Bow, Cozad, Holdrege and smaller communities “where they desperately could use a physical therapist or physician assistant. So, yeah, it’s going to be a real benefit to the region — Central Nebraska and points west.”
The facility will also bring to the UNK campus new programs in medical nutrition, radiography and diagnostic medical sonography.
The complex, which won’t be completed until July 1, will have students in its classrooms this fall. Those starting work this fall plan to become physician assistants, radiographers and sonographers.
As part of the building of the complex, the Kearney division of the UNMC College of Nursing will expand. UNK has been home to a college of nursing since 1991.
Bicak said Kearney’s UNMC School of Allied Health Professions will eventually produce 48 graduates each year, not including nursing. He predicts the nursing numbers, currently at 120, will rise to 175 or more at capacity. Within a few years, students will total about 300 across the nursing and allied health areas.
Young people who want to become physicians will still have to move to Omaha if they want to attend medical school in Nebraska.
The growth of Kearney’s UNMC College of Nursing will include its graduate program for nurse practitioners, as well as more bachelor of science in nursing degrees.
“We’ll be adding about 16 undergraduate students over the course of the next two to three years,” said Mary Ann Metz, interim assistant dean of the UNMC College of Nursing Kearney Division.
That increase will help stem the ongoing shortage of nurses, Metz said. That shortage has existed since the early to mid-1990s, but it will only worsen now that “the baby boomers are getting older,” Metz said.
She believes many future nurses “will go to school here and stay here,” helping to meet the needs of Central Nebraska and rural areas.
Kearney’s UNMC School of Allied Health Professions, Karst said, is the result of a unique cross-collaboration between different colleges and different university campuses.
The partnership, Bicak noted, involves not only two universities, but also many medical facilities within the region.
The cost of the Health Science Education Complex is $19 million. The Legislature provided $15 million. The remaining $4 million is being assembled by UNK and the University of Nebraska Foundation.
Work began on the Health Science Education Complex in April. Hausmann Construction of Lincoln is the project’s general contractor.