Regents approve program to boost health workforce

The program’s intent is to fill vacancies in the health care professions.

Yelena Kibasova

A center said to be intended to reduce growing health workforce shortages was approved at last week’s Board of Regents meeting.

The Center for Allied Health Programs will collaborate with the University’s Rochester campus and Winona State University to produce an allied health workforce with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Frank Cerra, Academic Health Center senior vice president, said the program is intended to fill a professional health care void caused, in part, by a lack of educational programs in Minnesota.

“The issue we’re trying to address is meeting the state’s workforce needs in the allied health professions,” he said.

Allied health careers make up more than 200 professions, such as radiation technology and physical therapy. The center initially will concentrate on medical technology/clinical laboratory science and occupational therapy, Cerra said, because they both have critical shortages.

“The current programs simply aren’t producing enough (professionals) and they’re not doing it in a model that’s going to meet the workforce needs,” he said.

Cerra said the University has the only public occupational therapy program in the state and the University’s medical technology program is one of the few small programs left in the state.

“We alone could never meet the enrollment of 180 to 200 graduates a year that’s going to be required for medical technology – there’s no way,” Cerra said. “There has to be a shared resource here.”

According to meeting documents, the number of accredited programs available nationally for medical technologists and clinical laboratory scientists decreased from 252 in 2001 to 228 in 2005.

Regent Patricia Simmons said medical technologists perform laboratory work in hospitals and clinics.

There are several problems contributing to the shortage, including an increased elderly population and a lack of programs in the state, Simmons said.

The shortage of occupational therapists also is critical, Simmons said. Occupational therapists help patients apply skills, such as relearning to tie shoes after a brain injury.

According to information provided by the regents, the national vacancy rate of occupational therapists is 11 percent. A vacancy rate of 8 percent is considered to be a crisis level.

The center will revamp the two programs and work with other schools to pool resources and recruit students statewide into the two programs.

“I think the major difference is going to be a more up-to-date curriculum, a learning platform where they can learn at their own pace, and the quality of the experiential education I think should be improved,” Cerra said.

Barbara Brandt, assistant vice president for education at the Academic Health Center, said that now that the board has approved the center, it will finish recruiting a director and continue creating the curriculum.

The new programs will go in front of the Board of Regents this fall, Brandt said. It now is putting together the programs’ curricula, creating courses and assigning instructors.

The new programs are expected to open in fall 2007 and to start bringing in other programs within a few years.