Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, hospitals and healthcare providers were struggling with a common problem — a lack of qualified, certified personnel to fill numerous positions, both in specialty areas and in general areas.

The pandemic, however, made it hit home just how really desperate we for these individuals right now. Our progress in the realm of medical care, all of our attempts to expand and make our quality of life better are all for not if we simply don’t have the needed personnel to do the jobs.

And it’s not a problem that will be fixed immediately. It takes time. We must reach young people and qualified unemployed people with the message that the medical field is a great opportunity and then we must educate them.

One success story to which we can look is right here in our own backyard — the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine. For years, officials expressed concern over the lack of physicians in rural areas such as Eastern Kentucky.

Thankfully, however, some of those officials finally figured out that it wasn’t enough to train people in the metropolitan areas and then cross our fingers and hope they would decide to work in rural areas. It took a concerted effort to find future physicians willing to be trained and educated in rural areas.

KYCOM has not completely filled the need for rural physicians but it has certainly made a dent, as graduates of the school fill offices and hospitals in communities throughout the nation.

We’ve always had strong training in fields such as nursing, but unfortunately in recent years we’ve often watched as local people received their medical training and degrees and were then poached by Lexington and Louisville facilities.

There’s a reason for that — our people are often very good in these jobs, especially in the area of direct patient care. They just need opportunity.

That’s why we love seeing things that we’ve seen recently, such as the expansion of nursing and other healthcare programs and increased cooperation between healthcare providers and educators to fill specific needs and encourage people to go into healthcare fields.

For example, last week, Transylvania University and Appalachian Regional Healthcare announced a partnership which will provide much-needed scholarship money for individuals in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia counties interested in working in various health care fields.

Students selected for the scholarship program may receive up to $15,000 over four years — in addition to other merit and need-based aid — and will have access to experiential learning opportunities during their undergraduate studies in the form of summer work, mentorships and internships with ARH.

But, recipients must agree to work for ARH for a minimum of three years, meaning they’re committed to working in rural Eastern Kentucky or West Virginia for that amount of time.

Also last week, the University of Pikeville unveiled its new multi-million-dollar renovation of its nursing skills and simulation lab facility.

The lab expansion and upgrade, officials said, will allow UPike to serve more students better, helping to close the gap on the nursing shortage being faced by healthcare providers nationwide. Training local people or training people from outside the area in our community could help provide what we need to provide these much-needed professionals for local healthcare facilities and doctor’s offices.

It’s not going to be easy to get out of this problem, which has been years in the making. But we can make an improvement by working together with a focused single goal in mind — of helping create more medical professionals.

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