Loper alumna makes a difference in rural health care


Nicole Kent presents student research about medical costs. Mariah Watson / Antelope Staff


Nicole Kent grew up in a town of less than a thousand people and is now pursuing a career in rural medicine. The Benkelman native is an accomplished UNK alumni and current UNMC College of Medicine student.

Humbly, Kent credits her success in medical school to her professors at UNK.

“I felt like my professors really cared about me as a person, for one, and making sure that I was doing okay outside of the classroom,” said Kent, a fourth-year student at UNMC. “And for two, making sure that I could be successful at the next level, and I feel like going into my time at UNMC I was as prepared, if not more prepared, than anyone else who started at the same time as me.”

During her senior year of high school, Kent was accepted into the Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP) for medicine, securing her spot at UNMC.

UNK Director of Health Sciences Peggy Abels met Kent when she was a high school senior applying for the KHOP program and immediately knew she was a one-of-a-kind student.

“I would put Nicole in the top among the very best students I’ve ever worked with, let’s put it that way,” Abels said. “She was everything that you would want in a student, both as an instructor and as a program coordinator.”

Kent was a competitive medical school applicant and considered other schools, but ultimately decided UNMC was the right fit.

“I started looking around and realized that for what I wanted to do, for primary care, UNMC is one of the best schools in the country,” Kent said. “I realized I could be close to home, and I could train not just to be a smart doctor and a good doctor at UNMC, but a kind and caring one too.”

Kent is one of seven students from her class at UNK that are attending UNMC College of Medicine, where their entire class numbers around 132 people.

At UNK, Kent was involved in several student organizations, including KHOP and the Honors Program. She also served as a Chancellor’s Ambassador and was the Student Body President and Student Regent during her senior year.

Abels attests that Nicole’s involvement made her stand out from her peers.

“The resume built itself because she involved herself in things that she was passionate about,” Abels said. “But she didn’t do them for the purpose of building her resume, and I think that’s one of the things that set her apart.”

Kent continues to be involved while pursuing her medical degree at UNMC. She is the Co-Curriculum Chair for the class of 2024, served on the student senate, was the IT and e-learning liaison for student senate, and volunteers at medical clinics. Kent is transitioning out of her position as the UNMC Student Senate President and Student Regent for the 2022-2023 school year.

It’s been stressful, but worthwhile, for Kent to manage academics, leadership positions and community service while at UNMC.

“[It’s] been a lot to balance with clerkships and being at the hospital all day every day and then also doing the student regent and student senate president thing,” Kent said. “But it’s been very rewarding, and I’m very glad that I was given the opportunity to do that here.”

Kent graduated from UNK and began school at UNMC in 2020, which posed challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic and most lectures being held via Zoom.

“When you’re sitting in a room alone, watching a Zoom lecture, it’s really easy to get lost and then think that you’re not as smart as everyone else because you aren’t keeping up with this lecture,” Kent said. “But in reality, if you were in a classroom setting with everyone else you would see that everyone else checked out like 15 minutes ago and started studying something else on their computer or started online shopping or something.”

During her third year, Kent was accepted into the Primary Care Program at UNMC, which circumvents the traditional application and matching system that most physician students go through. Instead, Kent will be staying at UNMC for her residency in family medicine, which she will complete in June of 2027.

Dr. Dave O’Dell, co-director of the Primary Care Program, attests to Nicole’s accomplishments as a student and future healthcare provider.

“She’s an advocate for improving the healthcare system,” O’Dell said. “And in addition, has been able to balance all her responsibilities with maintaining excellent scholarship, and that’s quite a feat. That’s a remarkable accomplishment for her.”

Kent is supportive of her alma mater’s recent push for health sciences education and initiatives and the overall quality of education at UNK.

“I am so excited about the direction that health sciences at UNK is taking,” Kent said. “I am so excited about the direction that health sciences at UNK is taking,” Kent said. “I think that people recognize the value of the education at UNK and how well prepared our students are when they make it to professional school or, you know, students outside of health sciences – how well prepared our teachers are, how well prepared our business leaders are, when they leave UNK.”

Nicole Kent. Courtesy photo