Ambassador Program

Introducing Nebraska High School and College Students to Behavioral Health Careers

Ambassador HS 2013 Group

2013 Ambassador High School Conference

In April 2013, BHECN hosted the First Annual BHECN Ambassador High School Conference.

It was featured in the National Institute of Mental Health’s Partner Spotlight in its e-newsletter, Outreach Connection. See NIMH item.

The ultimate goal is to

mentor rural students to

complete their professional training

and return to practice

in rural communities.


Ambassador backstory: why BHECN was created.
In 2009, the Behavioral Health Workforce Act (Legislative Bill #603) established the 
Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN) in response to a severe statewide shortage of behavioral health professionals.

The Legislative bill asked BHECN to grow the behavioral health workforce and to 
prioritize the need for additional professions by location.

  • 88 out of 93 Nebraska counties had little or no access to mental health care. The majority of the state’s behavioral health workforce practice in Lincoln or Omaha.

Additionally, BHECN’s statewide workforce analysis found:

  • Over half of the state’s behavioral health providers are over the age of 50, suggesting that the workforce shortage will worsen without action.

What is the Ambassador Program?
It introduces rural students statewide to behavioral health careers. It recruits and mentors students — from high school to
 college through professional school — and into practice as behavioral health professionals.

What is its goal?
To develop a behavioral health workforce for rural Nebraska by investing in students from rural Nebraska and connecting them with information and resources to explore behavioral 
health careers, especially in small towns and rural Nebraska communities.

BHECN's impact on Nebraska High School Students

Ambassador Impact 2013

547 High School Students from 47 Nebraska Counties from September 2012 through October 2013

Are students interested in behavioral health careers?
Very interested. For example:

  • At career day events at UNMC, UNK, Wayne State, and Hastings College, 155 out of 268 rural high school attendees expressed interest in behavioral health careers after a brief presentation.
  • BHECN’s First Annual High School Ambassador Conference was held April 2013 in Kearney.  Twenty-nine students from 16 Nebraska communities attended.
  • BHECN's 2nd Annual High School Ambassador Conference will be April 4 & 5, 2014.

Now, let’s go beyond interest. Do those students actually pursue health care education?

  • Of 41 students who thus far participated in our College Ambassador Workshop, 12 are currently enrolled at UNMC (5 in medical school, 5 in pharmacy, and 2 in nursing).

BHECN’s Ambassador Program drew inspiration from a successful state program for rural high school students called RHOP — Rural Health Opportunities Program.

RHOP is a partnership between UNMC, Chadron State, Peru State, and Wayne State College.  Rural high school students are pre-admitted to UNMC in 9 different professions. Encouraging students from rural communities to return to rural communities as health professionals..

Since its inception in 1991, 77% of RHOP practicing graduates have worked in rural communities during their careers. More information at


Ambassador College Students 2013

4th Annual BHECN College Ambassador Conference 2013

May 2013 BHECN's College Ambassador Conference (previously the "BHECN/RHEN Behavioral Health Workshop).  College students spend a week at UNMC and earn one-hour college credit.  MORE INFO

What behavioral health professions do students learn about?
The Ambassador Program acquaints students with the entire spectrum of behavioral health professions and education required, including:

  • Case Manager
  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Counselor
  • Psychiatrist
  • Marriage and Family Therapist
  • Psychologist
  • Peer Support Specialist
  • Social Worker
  • Physician Assistant
  • Substance Abuse Counselor









What student activities does the Ambassador Program include?

  • presentations, workshops and conferences— introducing students to the entire range of behavioral health careers and professions.
  • opportunities to meet and talk to behavioral health professionals— including psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, psychologists, social workers, counselors, marriage and family therapists, pharmacists, case managers and peer specialists.
  • observations in community settings — giving students a clear picture of what behavioral health professionals actually do.

Norfolk High School student Abby Stewart was one of hundreds of Nebraska high school and college students who learned about behavioral health careers through the Ambassador Program.



How can your high school or college participate?

For more information about the Ambassador Program — or to arrange a presentation for students —    

contact Ann Kraft (402) 552-7638 |