Last fall the University of Nebraska Medical Center partnered with the University of Nebraska at Kearney to start a Rural Health Opportunities Program in Kearney.
Earlier that spring Derek Marshall was high school senior in Elm Creek, bound for the first Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP) class.
Now Marshall is a UNK sophomore and says KHOP is everything he hoped it would be.
"I've found that if you've put in the effort for the studies everything will seem to go smoothly, and as long as you keep your commitment to practicing medicine in central Nebraska everything will be fine," said Marshall.
He says he knew he wanted to go to UNK and be a doctor, so KHOP was the perfect fit.
His classmate, Mary Ann Pelc, says KHOP started just in time for her too.
"I had applied for the RHOP in Wayne, but then I found out there was going to be the KHOP in Kearney, and it was just like, oh my goodness, the timing is perfect," Pelc said.
Peg Abels, UNK's Director of Health Sciences, says the first two classes are success stories so far.
"So far all of the students in the program, both from the first year and the second year, are meeting all the requirements," she said. "They seem to be adjusting to UNK well, they're taking leadership positions, and [the first class is] mentoring some of the younger students which is really nice to see."
Abels says KHOP is designed to streamline student to medical school, but also get them back into rural settings when they graduate.
"If we can provide them with that foundation and get them to commit to practice in rural Nebraska, that's really our goal," she said.
Students say that's their goal too.
"I grew up in a small town, farm community - I know the people and that's the people that I work best with and I understand," said KHOP sophomore Adam Kahle of Dorchester.
Kahle, Pelc, and Marshall along with two other sophomores are all bound for UNMC's College of Medicine after they graduate from UNK.
KHOP has since expanded to include students headed into the fields of radiography, nursing, clinical lab science, and pharmacy. Abels says they have about 100 applicants for next year.