Rural Opportunity Must Be a Priority

By Kimberly K. Estep, Ph.D.

The news is often gloomy regarding healthcare and education in rural communities. Rural hospitals are closing at a distressing rate, with nearly 140 closing their doors since 2010. Rural Tennessee has lost more hospitals than anywhere else in the country. It’s also true, as Taylor Sisk reported for The Daily Yonder, that we need to reassess our approach to filling the gaps. It’s terrible to see hospitals closed, jobs lost, and healthcare interrupted, but the solutions should be tailored to the needs.

The data show that most healthcare services are out-patient, which is one reason why the serious shortage of qualified nurses and family nurse practitioners in rural areas is a big problem. Those positions are well-suited to address the rural healthcare crisis, but without qualified persons to take up those mantles, it’s no solution at all.

That means we also need to make it easier for rural residents to get the qualifications they need to serve their communities in these ways.

As citizens, we should be putting more pressure on our representatives to take seriously the issues surrounding healthcare and higher education in rural areas, so that people can get their qualifications, and ultimately so that patients can get the care they need to thrive. Educational institutions—such as the online, nonprofit university for which I serve as Chancellor, WGU Tennessee—should be proactive in recruiting and serving rural students. For example, we recently launched an exclusive scholarship—the WGU Tennessee Rural Healthcare Scholarship—for rural Tennessee students interested in enrolling in WGU’s BSN, MSN, or Family Nurse Practitioner degree programs.

Rural Tennessee needs nurses and FNPs. Creating pathways to opportunity in rural areas regarding higher education is crucial for individual success, as well as for the flourishing of our state.

(This is a sponsored post by WGU)

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