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The Rural Health Workforce Dilemma: Searching for Solutions

Colorado’s rural landscape ranges from the vast Eastern Plains to the soaring mountains of the Western Slope. But the geographic diversity of our state masks one troubling similarity – the challenges faced by residents of rural Colorado when they need medical care.

The Colorado Rural Health Center is conducting its 20th annual rural health conference today and tomorrow at the Hyatt Regency DTC. Jackie Colby, CHI’s health professions workforce program manager, participated as a featured panelist this afternoon during a session titled “Colorado Healthcare Workforce Solutions.”

View Jackie's presentation here:

Rural APNs and PAs in Colorado: Results from CHI's 2010-11 Workforce Surveys [slideshare id=8831114&w=425&h=355&sc=no]

Jackie joined Steve Holloway, director of the Primary Care Office in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, to discuss innovative programs and potential policy ideas.

Jackie, who earned her PhD in philosophy, with an emphasis on health care ethics and public policy, from the University of Colorado Boulder, is an expert on the difficulties surrounding rural medical care. With CHI research analyst Athena Dodd and programmer/analyst Rebecca Crepin, Jackie recently designed and conducted statewide workforce surveys that are contributing to our understanding of the make-up and distribution of Colorado’s rural health care workforce. We are learning much more about the role played by primary care providers such as advanced practice nurses and physician assistants in Colorado’s rural areas as the result of Jackie’s work.

For example, Jackie discovered that about 10 percent of Colorado’s physician assistants work in rural areas and about 11 percent of nurse practitioners are practicing there. As expected – and contributing to the challenges faced by rural health care consumers – most primary care practitioners are clustered in the state’s urban areas.

Her presentation presents some of the concerns facing policymakers as they wrestle with this issue. The rural health care workforce is aging, for example, with a good number of nurse practitioners and certified registered nurse anesthetists soon reaching retirement age. And there continue to be a number of barriers to providing quality care in a rural setting.

For more information on this subject, take a look at these publications on CHI’s website:

A Profile of Colorado's Physician Assistant Workforce

A Profile of Colorado' Advanced Practice Nurse Workforce

2009-10 Colorado Nurse Faculty Supply and Demand Study