Engaging Kids with Science Critical to Stop Doctor Shortage


Facing a dramatic shortage of doctors, the University of Nebraska Medical Center turns to the eighth grade, trying to get kid excited about careers in science.
Rural Nebraska needs more doctors, nearly 300 more, and the problem's only growing with many physicians facing retirement.
While other kids were texting, tweeting, and video gaming, your future doctor was searching for relief. Alec Ziebarth actually played with hydrochloric acid, to see what works best -- Tums, Alka-Seltzer, or Pepto-Bismol.
"I have acid reflux, so interested which of the three worked best," he said. Alec is getting a jump start on his future, saying he wants to be a doctor. And the Wilcox-Hildreth student would like to practice close to home.
Feeding his interest is a science meet sponsored by the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Blue Hill Science Teacher Tim Streff said, "It allows them to learn how to use the scientific method to solve problems, even everyday problems."
UNMC views this as a way to get kids interested in science, specifically medicine.
Studies show a dramatic shortage of doctors, including 11 Nebraska counties that lack even a single primary care physician. Science meet organizer Sally Husen said, "We have a number of kids who have gone on to the med center." It's a sign of tight budgets that participation has fallen, even if enthusiasm hasn't.
Husen said, "Numbers tend to be down but the ingenuity of students and amount of time they're able to put in is amazing. Judges say if kids like Alec are any indication, the future looks bright.
UNL Extension Agronomist Mark Hinze said these kids were "second to none" as he judged their project.
He said, "These kids are on mark, they do research and they learn how to present information to the public that's clear and concise. Some have career goals in mind, others are just starting to explore their options.
For Alec, he may be able to trace it back to his acid reflux.
"I hope I did good," he said with a smile. Some of these kids will end up going to a state meet. Even those who don't still learned about the scientific method and also met those working in various scientific fields.
But certainly they hope for doctors who would practice in towns like Wilcox, Central City, and Blue Hill.
The event was coordinated through the Central Nebraska Area Health Education Center, a program of UNMC.