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KU Medical Center group recruits rural teens for health jobs

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Traci Olberding, a University of Kansas pharmacy student from Atchison, speaks to a group of northeast Kansas high school students. (Photo by Andy Marso/KHI News Service)

In the last two years Seth Nutt has traveled to nearly every corner of Kansas, introducing rural students to health care professionals.

During trips to Goodland, Hays, Highland, Girard, El Dorado, Harper and Seward County, Nutt and others from the Area Health Education Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center have met with 1,000 high schoolers to tell them about the job opportunities available in health care. Through these meetings, Nutt and others hope the students will seek training in healthcare fields and then return to their communities to provide much needed services.

“I think the barriers are just not knowing what’s out there,” says Nutt, the center’s service coordinator for health careers and promotion. “Especially if you’re from a rural community, you’re unaware of a lot of the opportunities that are available to you and what careers are really needed.”

While the shortage of dentists in rural Kansas has been documented for years, Nutt says there’s a lack of patient access to other types of health professionals as well.

“In the rural communities, MDs (medical doctors) are needed,” Nutt says. “And nursing. I think when you get into the rural setting, there’s a lot of the careers that are needed.”

Nutt stresses to the high school students that there are more than 150 professions within medicine, and that number is growing as technology expands care options.

Nutt and Lynn Malleck, program manager for the Area Health Education Center’s northeast branch, visited Highland Community College on Monday. A group of about 50 students from five area high schools had gathered there to hear from Kansans working in pharmacy, dentistry, orthopedic research, health information management, nursing, psychology and critical care.

Nutt says it was a relatively small group. The gatherings generally draw between 100 and 150 students.

The Area Health Education Center has instituted other programs since Nutt was hired two years ago, including Night @ the Lab in which teams of three students are encouraged to do a research project on a specific topic, most recently cancer.

“They have four weeks to research a topic, put together an oral presentation and a visual display, and then they actually present those at regional competitions,” Nutt says.

The top team in each of the six regional competitions advances to a statewide competition at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, where they are given a “behind-the-scenes look” at the medical center and their work is judged by faculty and staff.

Andy Marso is a health reporter with Heartland Health Monitor, a reporting collaboration among KCUR Public Radio, KCPT Public Television, KHI News Service and Kansas Public Radio. He is based at KHI News Service.

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