OGDEN, Utah – Lydia Wingate, dean of the Dumke College of Health Professions, is concerned about the “graying of America” – and not just because she plans to retire at the end of June.
Wingate believes the increasing number of older Americans, and, subsequently, their increasing medical needs, have and will significantly contribute to the shortage of health care workers in the United States.
The advancing age of patients is one part of a three-prong problem facing the health care industry. Wingate says the average age of health care workers is also rising, at a time when many faculty members in academia, training future health care professionals, are fast approaching retirement.
The pipeline producing health care workers has remained about the same, while the average life expectancy has steadily increased, Wingate says. “If we don’t increase the number of trained health care workers, we are going to have a terrible situation.”
Wingate has served as dean at WSU for five years. She believes her college is well-positioned to address Utah’s shortage of health care professionals, but only if adequate funding can be found to maintain and increase accredited training programs.
“For accreditation in nursing, for example, we are required to maintain a ratio of one faculty position for every 12 students in the program,” Wingate explained.
Due to a lack of funding for additional faculty positions, Wingate estimates the Dumke College must turn away 500-700 qualified students a year. As dean of the college, she has devoted much of her energy towards efforts that increase endowments and funding for the college, but believes there is still more to be done.
In an effort to train more students as health professionals, the college has embraced technology as a way to expand its reach. Wingate cites the clinical laboratory sciences program, the only one of its kind in the nation to offer bachelor’s degrees entirely online, as an example of how the school has utilized technology to improve opportunities. Every program in the health professions college offers distance learning opportunities.
Wingate stresses that students are the college’s raison d’etre (reason to be) and hopes that her endeavors will benefit future students. As an advocate for students’ needs, she has worked to increase state and national lawmakers’ awareness about the role the college plays in developing health care professionals and takes every opportunity to remind legislators that funding WSU’s programs is critical.
In many ways she has served as an ambassador for the college, increasing its visibility with the community. “I believe we have a vibrant college with fantastic and dedicated faculty,” said Wingate.
As for Wingate’s future, she plans to move to Victoria, British Columbia to be closer to family and hopes to continue her work providing alternative treatments for chronic pain. She may be able to relate to the aging of America’s population, but she has no intentions of slowing down.
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