A healthy collaboration

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A healthy collaboration.

UNMC and UNK help students positively impact rural health care.

In a way, Kayla Rankin’s young life has come full circle.

She’s back in Kearney, where she was born 22 years ago when her mom was a student at UNK. Kayla is the student there now – a grad student in UNMC’s physician’s assistant program, which has expanded to the campus in Kearney.

She’s proud to be among the first students to use the new Health Science Education Complex, which opened its doors on the west edge of campus this past fall. She thinks all Nebraskans should be proud, too, because the building brings training to the middle of the state and will help alleviate Nebraska’s shortage of rural healthcare workers.

“I know rural areas are really lacking for providers in health care,” she says, “and I’m just really excited to try to fix that.”

The $19 million, 46,000-square-foot Health Science Education Complex is a partnership between UNMC and UNK. It may be the largest collaborative effort in the history of the university, University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds said at the ribbon-cutting in August.

“It’s not just about the building,” he said. “It’s all the things that will occur inside and out in the communities. What a great day for Kearney. What a great day for the University of Nebraska.”

What a great day for students like Kayla.

Kayla grew up in Spalding, a tiny town in Greeley County on the east edge of the Sandhills. She graduated in a class of 10. Many of the students who are taking classes inside the new building, she says, are young people like her from rural areas who want to spend their careers back in rural areas.

The new building is amazing place to study, she says. The first day she walked through its doors she was “absolutely blown away.”

“In one of the biggest classrooms, I saw probably 10 tables that could seat six students, and each table had its own computer screen. Then on a wall of the classroom you have this huge screen. It just blew my mind – the technology they have in there.

“And then I got to see the anatomy lab. It’s the best anatomy lab I’ve ever seen in my life.”

The first week or so, she says, it felt weird to see some of her UNMC professors on the screen, teaching class from the Omaha campus. But she and the other PA students quickly grew used to it, she says, and realized that they were getting a lot of individualized attention from those professors.

Kayla’s mom is proud.

“More than proud,” says Allison Rankin, a physical therapist who has worked at Boone County Health Center in Albion ever since graduating from UNMC in 1998.

In November, Kayla took Allison on a tour of the new HSEC building. She also was blown away.

“What a statement to central and western Nebraska from UNMC and UNK – that Nebraska is progressive in terms of educating health science students to provide to our Nebraska residents,” Allison says.

Like her daughter Allison also grew up in Spalding. Kayla was 2 when Allison graduated from UNMC. (The professors thought Kayla was a cutie. Says Kayla: “I was a chubby little girl with spiral curls down my back.”)

At the white-coat ceremony this past September, a few of those same professors recognized Allison right away and were happy to hear Kayla would now be their student.

After Allison graduated from UNMC, the family returned to the Spalding.

During summers and college breaks back home, Kayla, who graduated second in her class from Nebraska Wesleyan, would shadow her mother and other hospital workers. She’d travel with the physician’s assistants. She realized that she wanted to be a PA, too, after seeing how they were able to spend a lot of time with their patients. She saw how important their skills were to the people who lived in the area.

She saw how rural areas really need healthcare providers. Kayla is proud that in a few years she’ll be doing her part to help ease the shortage. She’d like to work in rural clinics. She’d like to stay in Kearney area, and maybe travel to small clinics in that part of the country.

Says Allison: “The word ‘proud’ does not even justify my feelings towards Kayla’s accomplishments or the new Health Science Education Complex. As a graduate of UNK and a UNMC alumni member, I’m extremely proud of my alma maters. Rural healthcare is at the heart of what I practice and what I believe in.

“We’re blessed with this expansion and are grateful to the generous donors and faculty making this dream a reality.”

Kayla is just one example of the students who will benefit from the University of Nebraska’s $200 million “Our Students, Our Future” fundraising initiative – and who will help make better futures for us all.

To learn more about the initiative, which runs through 2017, please contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216.

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