An initiative introduced by McPherson College and McPherson Hospital with a focus on community health sets out to become a new model for community health care in rural areas. It features a new enhanced health science degree at the college with a wide variety of hands-on educational opportunities thanks to a partnership with the hospital.
Working together toward healthier communities is the goal of the partnership. The partnership will provide opportunities for student learning and community outreach with the intent to create a new model for rural community health in Kansas. There is more to a healthy community than just treating people who are sick, explained McPherson College President Michael Schneider.
“We are looking at this from a holistic, patient-centered approach to health care in rural communities,” President Schneider said. “In small communities, you need to be resourceful uncovering ways to build a healthy community. It includes everything from mentoring at-risk youth to making sure our elderly citizens are safe when they return home from a hospital stay. It also includes solving our challenges to provide good mental health support and treatment for all. This partnership will put our students out in the community working with support from McPherson Hospital to solve these challenges.”
The new degree and partnership was announced August 29 at McPherson College where Rep. Roger Marshall, M.D., spoke about the importance of working together to support rural health.
“Health care, like many industries in Kansas, struggles to find qualified employees,” said U.S. Congressman Marshall. “I served as an OBGYN for more than 25 years and understand the need to find and retain hardworking, qualified medical staff. Partnerships and educational opportunities like the one announced today are an important step in meeting the health care needs of all Kansans and creating educational opportunities for those who want to live and work in rural America.”
The joint initiative aligns the college and hospital to provide students access to its facility resources and people for internships, field experiences, observation, and clinicals. The cooperating effort offers students opportunities for real-world experiences in all aspects of health care delivery, and develops a workforce pipeline for the hospital and other health care agencies across the state as students graduate from the new program. One of the first efforts the new initiative will pursue is a survey of all the health related opportunities available for students in Central Kansas.
“The delivery of health care and the needs of consumers have changed dramatically over the years and are likely to continue,” Terri Gehring McPherson Hospital president and CEO, said. “By combining our resources, talents and expertise we have the opportunity to accomplish so much more than we can individually to address these needs.”
President Schneider add, “Our organizations face similar challenges. This partnership allows us to work together with common goals. The primary focus of the college is creating pathways to careers in community health for our students. By working with the hospital, we also have the ability to provide signature outreach programs for some of the most vulnerable populations of any community, such as at-risk youth and the elderly.”
Last year, the college conducted an environmental analysis that included community focus groups with more than 60 area health professionals and community leaders participating. The research uncovered opportunities for developing an enhanced health science degree focused on health careers as well as support for a college and hospital partnership.
“The concept of partnering makes a lot of sense,” John Worden, chief operating officer at the hospital, said. “It became clear as we discussed the possibilities that we can unite and work together in a way that improves the health care delivery model and provides educational opportunities for students.”
Over the next 10 years the U.S. Department of Labor projects a 10-20 percent growth in careers related to community health. In Kansas, community health careers in telemedicine, telehealth, behavioral health, health care administration and community health planning are in high demand. Locally, a Community Health Needs Assessment, conducted annually by the hospital, prioritized the need for more mental health resources and services.
Kansas is among states with the highest number of rural hospitals and greatest shortage of health care professionals of all types, according to the National Rural Health Association. Additionally, according to the Kansas Hospital Association, more than 25 percent of the state’s population lives in rural areas.
“In the focus groups, we observed amazing community support for both the college and hospital,” Gehring said. “Participants were excited about the potential partnership and asked how they could help. This reinforced why McPherson is such a great community. We work together with a shared vision of success.”
Curriculum for the new degree will be offered beginning in the fall of 2020. The degree is designed for students who want to study in the field of health care while participating in outstanding internship opportunities which allow them to give back to the community.