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Thursday, October 11, 2018   (0 Comments)
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Our Cohort
These are the faces of the first Seattle cohort of the WWAMI AHEC Scholars (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho Area Health Education Center). We could not be more proud of this group of dedicated young health professional students. These students have all applied to the WWAMI AHEC program as a result of a shared vision: to learn how to best serve rural and underserved communities through our inter-professional education program. As part of the application process, they wrote essays explaining their interest in our program. They are inspiring. The cohort includes medical students, physician assistant students, nursing students, physical therapy and occupational therapy students, prosthetics and orthotics students, pharmacy students, and naturopathic medicine students. Students are from the following schools: University of Washington, Eastern Washington University, Whatcom College, Washington State University, Idaho State University and Bastyr University. 144 health professional students, from a wide variety of disciplines, have applied to the new WWAMI AHEC Scholars program in its first year.

The AHEC Scholars program nationwide
The AHEC (Area Health Education Center) Scholars program is in its infancy. This is part of a five-year federal Health Resources and Services (HRSA) grant. It is a bold move toward finding a way to integrate students of different health professional disciplines. Most health professional programs have few opportunities for students of different disciplines to learn or work cooperatively prior to their professional lives. AHEC Scholars seeks to not only put these students together in order to work and learn, but to share perspectives on treatment based on their disciplines, and embrace the practice of team-based care. The program requires participation in didactics, as well as community and/or clinical work with other health professional students.  A key data point, and requirement of the students, is that we have permission to contact them one year after completion of their primary health profession program and their AHEC Scholars certification. The intent is to measure the effectiveness of the program. Do these bright, interested students who value working with the underserved find their way into serving these communities once they are in the workforce?  The program is designed to foster this.

The didactics of the AHEC Scholars program is based on six core topic areas: inter-professional education, behavioral health integration, social determinants of health, cultural competency, practice transformation and current & emerging topics. Feedback from our applicants has been clear: these topics resonate with our students. They are topics not necessarily covered in their primary programs. 


This is a new approach for the AHEC program, a nationwide program with a forty-plus year history working towards equity in healthcare across the country. 300 AHEC program offices cover over 85% of the counties in the nation. Attached to each program office are the regional centers. These regional centers are located in rural or urban underserved communities and provide many of the educational services that promote good healthcare in their region. The centers have always, and will continue to, implement pipeline programs to encourage young people to enter healthcare as a career, provide continuing education for providers, and act as a healthcare information resource for their community.  Now, AHECs across the country are adding AHEC Scholars as a means to further meet the mission that AHECs have always sought to achieve: to improve the number of providers in rural and underserved communities, help retain and educate those skilled professionals, and diversify the healthcare workforce to better reflect the people being served.

Started in the mid-80s, WWAMI AHEC originally included the five states of the WWAMI region: Washington State, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. Currently, WWAMI AHEC serves the states of Washington and Idaho, with the program office at the University of Washington in Seattle and five regional centers: AHEC of Western WA (AHECWW), Eastern Washington AHEC (EWAHEC), Northern Idaho AHEC (NIAHEC), Southwest Idaho AHEC (SWIAHEC) and Southeast Idaho AHEC (SEIAHEC).  

WWAMI AHEC Scholars – Our Process
The work began by determining a timeline for Year One and Year Two, and by discussing possible ways that medical students could participate in the program. Individual meetings with other health professional programs created clarity on how to shape WWAMI AHEC Scholars to align with a variety of student schedules. A common interest among the various health professional programs was the importance of inter-professional opportunities, a concern of many of the programs’ accrediting bodies. The plan for three in-person events was also well-received. These are: the kick-off event, at which we had a representative of the Department of Health discuss loan repayment; a full-day Saturday fieldtrip to an advanced clinic in practice transformation; and the planned graduation/networking event, at which we will host local healthcare employers.   

It was decided that the Seattle program office, EWAHEC, NIAHEC, and SEAHEC would deliver the two campus courses, one each year of the program, in order to meet the didactic requirement of 40 hours per year. Early on, it was a concern that some rural students might not be able to get to a campus course, while other students might find it impossible to fit a residential course into their schedule and might need the flexibility that an online cohort affords. Online modules were developed, in concert with interactive online ZOOM meetings, to facilitate an inter-professional experience. Thus, the online cohort was born. AHECWW agreed to facilitate that cohort in Washington. SEIAHEC will facilitate the online students in their region. 

Toby Keys, MPH, faculty at the UWSOM and Director of the RUOP program, wrote the curriculum for Year One and worked to modify the curriculum to include expert speakers for the Seattle campus course. Students matriculating at the University of Washington will have the option to take the course for one credit. Any student can opt for a no cost, no credit option. Either will be counted toward the certificate. The same course materials will be available to the regional Centers who will have the opportunity to alter the course content to best address the needs and issues for their specific region.

An Assignment Tracker, built in WordPress, will allow the students to self-report their required 40 hours of community/experiential/clinical hours per year, as well as their completion of their class work. It will be the responsibility of the program office to make sure that their chosen site locations for community/experiential/clinical work meet HRSA defined criteria for rural or underserved sites. The community project option is designed as a student team-based exercise to fulfill the necessary hours. It involves students interviewing clinicians of different disciplines and learning about the challenges for their given patient population. Scholarship, through a poster presentation at an inter-professional conference, will be encouraged. Students also have the option of amassing clinical hours through their primary program or through service learning or volunteering. Northwest Primary Care Association is helping to identify potential sites that would welcome our students. It is hoped that by working closely with these clinics and practices, students will begin to develop a network of job opportunities and mentoring relationships.

Through a formal application process, applications have been reviewed and scored by both the AHEC Centers that will potentially host them and the program office. As of this writing, the regional AHEC Centers are still recruiting. The anticipated totals are: a Seattle cohort of 45, a Washington online cohort of 30 facilitated by AHECWW, a Spokane cohort of 30 at EWAHEC, a cohort of 7-10 students at NIAHEC, and a SEIAHEC cohort of 15-20 students.     

Our WWAMI AHEC Center Directors and their teams bring amazing energy, commitment, and dedication to our mission. They are: Cori Garcia-Hansen, AHECWW Director and Kate Di Nitto, Associate Director AHECWW; Krista Loney, MHA, Director; Katrina Hoff, Director SWIAHEC; Jim Conditt, Director NIAHEC; and Diana Schow, PhD, Director SEIAHEC. We look forward to carrying out our first year of WWAMI AHEC Scholars and have big plans to expand the cohort and develop the AHEC Scholars experience for our students over the next four years. 


Stacey Morrison, MLIS, MA is the Associate Director of the WWAMI AHEC program office at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Ms. Morrison has worked at the UWSOM since 2014. Her previous employment was as Project Manager for the Practice Transformation Support Hub Resource Portal (waportal.org). She is a certified Professional Librarian in Washington State.

For more information, please visit WWAMI AHEC Scholars website or contact uwahec@uw.edu.





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