Polly Olson, an EMS instructor from Chappell, Nebraska
Polly Olson, an EMS instructor from Chappell, Neb., looks at simulated injuries on a mannequin, in a mobile training unit parked outside the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Neb., About 80 percent of Nebraska's emergency responders are volunteers, and it can be hard for them to get certified in advanced techniques. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Meeting the healthcare needs of rural areas with limited medical personnel will require rethinking the roles of some of those workers, an industry expert said.

Scott Jenson, senior vice president of Career Cert, a division of Carrus, a healthcare training and certification company, said using paramedics and nurses in new ways will be key to the future of healthcare in rural areas. 

For instance, he said, implementing ways for community paramedics to assist with non-emergency medical care will help ease the problems associated with access to healthcare. As baby boomers age, the need for healthcare professionals will continue to increase. 

“Healthcare jobs continue to increase annually across all geographic regions. There are people (for those jobs)… the question is, will those people remain as both licensed and unlicensed healthcare professionals? These jobs will only continue to expand in the future as the baby boomers continue to age and become further infirmed from a lifetime of excess (after WWII),” he said. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs in healthcare is expected to continue to increase over the next decade. 

“Employment of healthcare occupations is projected to grow 14 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations, adding about 1.9 million new jobs,” the Bureau said on its website. “Healthcare occupations are projected to add more jobs than any of the other occupational groups. This projected growth is mainly due to an aging population, leading to greater demand for healthcare services. 

But rural areas face difficulties in getting healthcare professionals to come to their areas. Many of these healthcare professionals are concerned that the area they will be working in will mean a heavier workload, with a larger number of patients suffering from more health problems, as well as fewer opportunities for continuing education and a sense of professional isolation, according to the Rural Health Information Hub. 

Using things like telemedicine can help professionals develop their careers while living in rural areas, Jensen said, as well as create more jobs in those areas.

“(Telemedicine will allow) emergency medical providers the ability to advance their careers,” he said. “There will be many more jobs for healthcare professionals such as doctors, physicians assistants and nurse practitioners. The more rural you are, the more likely to have access to telemedicine or the more likely you are to need the service. There will be an increase in remote monitoring of vital signs and the need for unlicensed professionals to keep an eye on those types of data through smart devices including watches, scales and toilets.”

In order to attract talent to rural areas, however, hospitals and communities will need to make sure candidates know their needs will be supported. 

“Medical professionals may be intimidated by the technical (real or perceived) aspects of remote work,” Jensen said. “Continuation and expansion of some of the current programs like signing bonuses, relocation bonuses, student loan reimbursement programs, home buying programs, continuing education subscriptions; would all help to increase interest in rural medicine jobs.”

But healthcare professionals already in the field will need more training, he said. As long as the training translates to a billable service, training will pay off in the end, he said. 

“There will be a need for more training, whether it is on assessment, tools needed for gathering medical information about the patient to make a proper diagnosis, and technology training (ie tablets, computers, internet),” he said. “(However) community paramedics, paramedics advancing their career may suffer from the desire to do so, but lack of funds. “

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