Rural Health Day summit addresses challenges, solutions for rural Nevada health care

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Gerald Ackerman, UNR Med addresses challenges and solutions to the statewide shortage of primary care doctors and specialists.

Gerald Ackerman, assistant dean, rural programs; director, Office of Rural Health at UNR Med addresses CEO's and clinicians from nearly 20 rural Nevada communities at a Rural Health Day summit to discuss the challenges and solutions to the statewide shortage of primary care doctors and specialists. UNR Med photo by Brin Reynolds.  

Rural and frontier Nevada communities are among the state's most picturesque and desirable places to live. Those who call rural Nevada home have an abundance of diverse outdoor adventure at their disposal or can opt for a relaxed, peaceful off-the-grid lifestyle. But, when it comes to having access to specialty health care - rural Nevadans have to look farther.

The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) Office of Statewide Initiatives, Nevada State Office of Rural Health and Nevada Rural Hospital Partners hosted CEO's and clinicians from nearly 20 rural Nevada communities at a Rural Health Day summit today to address the challenges and solutions to the statewide shortage of primary care doctors and specialists. The health care leaders discussed way to reduce the disparities in rural access to care.    

For Nevada's 300,000 rural residents, it's not uncommon to have to drive 300 miles for specialty health care, since the state ranks No. 47 in the U.S. for actively practicing physicians. Nevada is the seventh largest state by area, spanning 110,000 square miles from the urban centers of Reno to the north and Las Vegas to the south and the many rural communities sprinkled throughout the Silver State.  

"We are finding a complexity of rural health access problems in Nevada and across the country," said John Packham, Ph.D., associate dean, Office of Statewide Initiatives at UNR Med. "It's a hospital issue, a hospital staffing issue, a Medicaid reimbursement issue, a physician workforce issue, and a physician burnout issue. The list goes on in terms of the rural health care issues and we need to get back to the foundations that we are training family physicians to be adequately equipped to provide quality care in rural areas."  

Joining UNR Med leadership at the summit were leaders from Great Basin College, Roseman Health Sciences University, Touro University, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada Hospital Association, Nevada Rural Hospital Partners and Nevada Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.  The group  addressed top health care challenges, including:  

1.    Workforce in primary care, nursing and mental health and creating a pipeline for recruiting and retaining the next generation of health care providers

2.    Access to primary care and mental health services

3.    Financially stressed rural hospitals and clinics  

Graduate medical education programs play a critical role in training future doctors who will practice rural medicine and are key to addressing Nevada's physician shortage. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, data shows a 77 percent likelihood that a medical student who completes medical school and rural residency training in Nevada will remain in the area to practice.  

Rural Nevadans recently gained more options for their health care, thanks to a new Elko Family Medicine Residency Program that started this summer. The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) and Nevada Health Centers (NVHC), who are partnering on the residency program to expand health care for local residents, celebrated the grand opening of the Elko Family Medicine Residency Program in October.  

"The Elko Family Medicine Residency Program is a prime example of UNR Med's commitment to expanding health care access to rural Nevada and providing exceptional care for rural residents," said UNR Med Dean Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D. "We are extremely pleased to team with NVHC to extend our medical training and clinical care reach to Elko and surrounding communities. We thank Governor Sandoval and the Graduate Medical Education Task Force for their support in expanding these resident programs."  

The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada's first public medical school, will celebrate 50 years in 2019 and has trained 3,100 physicians with approximately 40 percent practicing in Nevada since it was established 1969. The School of Medicine has undergone significant growth to increase the number of health care professionals in Nevada by educating more physician assistants, medical students, residents and fellows. In 2018 alone, UNR Med launched several new departments in Reno, including a department of surgery, Physician Assistant Studies Program and Women's Health Center.


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Julie Ardito, APR
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Tessa Bowen
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Office: (775) 682-9254

The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine is a community-based, research-intensive medical school with a statewide vision that has served Nevada for 50 years. The state's first public medical school, UNR Med fosters a healthy Nevada through excellence in medical education, medical care, research and community engagement, within a culture of respect, compassion and inclusion. Through targeted growth and investment in research, clinical services, education and outreach, UNR Med is improving the future of health care. For more information, visit our 50th anniversary website.