Kathryn Craft, College of Health associate dean at UAA, was named senior director of Statewide Health Programs and Development on Feb. 21. She is going to work on expanding UA health programs in cooperation with the College of Health Dean and Vice Provost, Jeffrey Jessee.
“Kathy has a very long history in workforce development… She’s really been a statewide leader in workforce development for a long time, and she’s particularly qualified to help meet this effort,” Jessee said.
Craft served as director of the Alaska Health Workforce Coalition prior to working on the statewide health program expansions. The coalition was launched as a public and private partnership in an effort to address the critical needs of health professionals in Alaska.
Craft received the Workforce Advocacy Award by two national organizations for her work in workforce development in health and social services during her time as director of the AWHC in 2016.
In Craft’s new position, she is going to focus more on the programs in the UA system.
“I will be less involved in the day-to-day… activities of the AHWC and will be more involved in the statewide development of the University of Alaska’s healthcare workforce development and programming,” Craft said.
The UA Board of Regents has the goal of doubling the number of health graduates produced in the UA system by 2025. Currently, there are about 870 health graduates; therefore, the goal is to have about 1,700 by 2025.
Efforts to meet this objective have already been launched.
“There is a very significant expansion in the nursing program underway… We’re also working with Mat-Su College to set up and expand a certified nursing assistant program and we’re bringing on a surgical technologist program,” Jessee said.
Besides more conventional health-related occupations, Craft would like students to consider the variety of health-related professions open to them in the state.
“We need to ensure that first generation and first year college students as well as middle and high school students know that healthcare occupations are not limited to being a doctor or a nurse,” Craft said.
Craft is doing research on healthcare workforce data projecting growth and replacement needs in the field.
“There are many allied health [occupations like] physical therapy… and behavioral health occupations like… Human Services and Rural Human Service Workers, which are needed across our state,” Craft said.
Darrion Gray, physical education major, is thinking about working in athletic training or physical therapy after getting his degree from UAA.
“The UAA department of health, physical education and recreation is really devoted to opening opportunities for UAA students in the physical therapy and beyond,” Gray said. “The need for athletic trainers is bigger than ever before.”
One problem in Alaska is that the current numbers of health professionals in the state are not enough to satisfy the state’s healthcare needs Jessee said.
“Many customers in the healthcare industry have to resort to bringing up people from outside which costs them a lot of money and these people don’t know Alaska and they tend to leave after a while,” Jessee said. “[The health sector] is one of the fastest and almost one of the only employment sectors in the state that’s growing and projected to continue to grow. Our population ages, so these are going to be very high-demand jobs.”
This makes the work of Craft beneficial for students pursuing careers in these professional fields, but also for students in general, Jessee said.
“It [the expansion of health programs] puts UAA in a leadership role in helping address an important state issue,” Jessee said. “As we expand programs here at UAA and across the state, students… will have multiple pathways to getting personally fulfilling and economically beneficial careers and healthcare.”