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Healers for the Health Center Movement

Monday, July 21, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joy Ingram
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by Gary Cloud, Ph.D., MBA, Vice President University Partnerships, A.T. Still School of Osteopathic in Arizona (SOMA)

I recently watched Nafiseh Haghgoo walk across the stage, accept her diploma, and take the pledge to serve society as a physician. Dr. Haghgoo discovered Community Health Centers as a patient, and was pointed to the health center movement's partnered medical school through a Hometown Scholar endorsement. This is a CHC story .....

Noble Endeavor

A decade ago the National Association of Community Health Centers asked A.T. Still University to partner in establishing an osteopathic medical school for the Health Center movement. NACHC and ATSU had already successfully partnered in establishing a dental school focused on the under-served. The addition of a medical school to that partnership, they reasoned, would further help address the shortage of healers while contributing to aspirations of providing access to all.

NACHC gathered Blue Ribbon Panels to assist the university in laying out a goal, objectives and strategies for the endeavor. The goal was (and is) to produce excellent, community-minded healers for the Community Health Center movement. Strategies included selecting applicants with a history of volunteerism and a 'heart for service', teaching students about concepts central to the Health Center movement, placing students under mentorships with leading CHC healers, working to infuse talent into communities, and establishing health-center based graduate medical education.

A.T. Still University gathered staff and experts, and hosted panels for vetting learning models that would support the goal, objectives and strategies. Their efforts led to new levels of innovation at A.T. Still University, and placed both the Health Center movement and the university at the forefront of innovation in American medical education – with the establishment of a new medical school popularly called SOMA.

Innovative Model

Two objectives that converged, coming out of discussions with Health Center and medical education focus groups and experts, were 'learning in context' and 'Community Campuses.' Adoption of the learning-in-context objective was based on the belief that facts, concepts, skills and attitudes are best-learned, when learned in the context of their use. Examples include learning the basic sciences in the context of using such knowledge to solve problems; learning to solve problems in the context of a team environment; and learning patient care in a setting where patients receive care.

The adoption of a Community-Campus strategy was based upon the desire to embed future healers in a Community Health Center environment where they could learn in the context of aspired practice. Embedding SOMA medical students in a CHC Campus allows; interaction and character modeling with committed and compassionate CHC healers; participation in Health Center population-based, interdisciplinary team care; development of organizational and local cultural competencies; and 'citizenship' in the local medical community and neighborhoods.

After one year of learning at ATSU's Arizona campus, medical students transition to one of eleven CHC Community Campuses where they continue development of their knowledge base, skill at problem solving, adeptness at patient interaction, participation in teamwork, practice of community oriented primary care (the theory behind CHCs), and education on the Health Center movement. CHC leaders from the Northwest participated in the shaping of this model, and two Community Campuses are located there; one hosted by HealthPoint of King County ,Washington; and one hosted by NWRPCA and based out of Multnomah County, Oregon.

First Fruits

Aspiring healers accepted to SOMA have come with extraordinary backgrounds and character. In addition to having prepared for medical school with academic rigor, and having proven their knowledge base by doing well on the national Medical College Admissions Test - SOMA students have competed for acceptance by demonstrating a commitment to the under-served. They demonstrate with a convincing personal statement, by sharing with interviewers their aspirations to serve those most in need, with a history of having done so through volunteerism, and via other indications of compassion and character.

These students come to SOMA with hundreds of hours serving as volunteers, numerous speaking a second language, and many as the first generation to attend college. They are further nurtured with public health coursework, guest 'Hero Healer' speakers from the Health Center world who model character as a life-example, CHC physicians as role models at their Community Campus, and research on community outreach. Each cohort of SOMA graduates has overwhelmingly selected residencies in disciplines of importance to the Health Center movement.

The first cohort of SOMA physicians graduated in 2011. While Dr. Hagagoo has a few years of residency before she can be employed as a CHC physician, those participating in 3 year residencies from the 2011 cohort will be entering the workforce this summer. SOMA's success, at meeting the health center movement's need for physicians, will depend upon your hiring graduates!

Your Role

The national shortage of healers will place tremendous pressure on Community Health Centers and the populations they serve. The health center movement will need to focus efforts on developing a compassionate, community-minded, health center workforce:

  • Dr. Haghgoo was a patient at HealthPoint Community Health Center - You are encouraged to dare your patients, your employees, and their children to also dream of becoming a healer.

  • Dr. Haghgoo received a Hometown Scholar endorsement – You are encouraged to mentor aspiring healers, point those with a 'Health Center Heart' to the NACHC partnered medical, dental and PA colleges at ATSU, and nominate them as aHometown Scholar.*

  • Dr. Haghgoo received much of her training at a HealthPoint's Community Campus, and at affiliated health centers, specialists and hospitals – You are encouraged to work with HealthPoint, NWRPCA and ATSU to help mentor the Health Center movement's future physicians, dentists and PAs.**

  • Dr. Haghgoo matched into a residency position at HealthPoint – You are encouraged to hire ATSU graduates.***

* Send Hometown Scholar endorsements to Gary Cloud, 5850 E. Still Circle, Mesa, AZ 85206, P 480-219-6013. F 480-219-6110. gcloud@atsu.edu

** Contact information for SOMA graduates in residency can be accessed through NWRPCA. Keep in mind that residents are often hired well before they complete their residency.

*** This year's NACHC/ATSU Dentist & PA Recruitment Fair will be held on the afternoon of September 24th in Mesa, AZ. For information, contact NWRPCA.


NWRPCA welcomes and regularly publishes white papers and articles submitted by members, partners and associates with subject matter expertise. The appearance of any guest publication in our Health Center News database represents the views of the author and does not constitute endorsement by NWRPCA of the stated opinions or perspectives, nor does it suggest endorsement of the contributor's products or services.


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