One of the many challenges of rural Alaska is the lack of qualified health professionals. Many residents need to travel hundreds of miles with various modes of transportation to receive needed care. The mission of AHEC Scholars is to send students to communities across the state to introduce them to the places that need their expertise the most and prepare them for the realities of their career path. The Alaska AHEC addresses its mission by working in the following areas:
- Engaging Alaskans into health careers to evolve the future health workforce
- Training health profession students by supporting clinical rotations that occur in rural communities or with underserved populations
- Retaining Alaska’s health workforce by increasing access to and providing CE/CME opportunities statewide
What is AHEC?
The Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) are federally-funded, state-administered offices that work on improving healthcare services across their respective states. Every state and most territories have at least one AHEC. Alaska’s AHEC program office is located in Anchorage. There are also six regional AHEC Centers located at the Alaska Primary Care Association, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, SERRC, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, NACTEC and Aleutian Pribilof Island Association.
What is AHEC Scholars?
AHEC Scholars is a two-year program designed to supplement and broaden a student’s healthcare training. An abbreviated form of the program, requiring half as many hours, is available to students enrolled in a degree or certificate program of less than 12 months duration. AHEC Scholars covers six topic areas related to the practice of healthcare including interprofessional education, behavioral health integration, social determinants of health, cultural competency, practice transformation and current and emerging health issues.
What is required?
Each year, students are required to complete 40 hours of classroom or online training (didactic) and another 40 hours of community-based experiential learning out in the field. Many students will complete their community-based learning in a small rural community, but there is also an option for working with urban (Anchorage or Fairbanks) underserved populations.
Who can participate?
Students must be currently enrolled in a degree- or certificate program related to healthcare. As of September 2018, AHEC recognizes all the following programs:
- Behavioral Health Aide
- Certified Nursing Assistant
- Clinical Mental Health Counseling (M. Ed.)
- Clinical-Community Psychology
- Community Health Aide/Practitioner
- Community Health Worker
- Dental Assisting
- Dental Health Aide/Therapist
- Dental Hygiene (BS)
- Diagnostic Medical Sonography
- Dietetics (Certificate, BS, MS)
- Emergency Medical Technician
- Health Sciences
- Human Services (AAS, BHS)
- Medical Assisting
- Medical Coding
- Medical Lab Science (AAS, BS)
- Nursing (AAS, BS, MS)
- Nursing Practice
- Occupational Therapy
- Paramedicine (Certificate, AAS)
- Physical Therapy Assistant
- Physician Assistant
- Public Health
- Radiologic Technology
- Social Work (BS, MS)
- Speech-Language Pathology
What are the benefits?
AHEC scholars receive the opportunity for more hands-on learning, helpful health-related training, and networking opportunities. Their experiences as scholars help them to better serve Alaska’s most vulnerable populations by providing them with learning opportunities working with communities they may not otherwise be able to serve in their respective programs. In addition, scholars receive stipends or travel support and prioritization in rural loan repayment programs.
Blog written by: Keriann Shine
Keriann is a former ACPE College & Career Specialist and currently the Administrative Assistant in the UAA Alaska Center for Rural Health in the College of Health. She has also recently started her Masters in Dietetics and Nutrition and will be applying to the AHEC Scholars program next year.