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Making an Impact in Rural and Underserved Oregon--One Student at a Time

Monday, November 19, 2018   (0 Comments)
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Curt Stilp, Ed. D., PA-C Director of Oregon AHEC

Assistant Professor for the Division of Physician Assistant Education at Oregon Health & Science University

Since the early 2000’s, Oregon AHEC (Area Health Education Center) has been providing rural and underserved training opportunities for health profession students across the state. In early 2017, Oregon AHEC set out to bring all such programs under one umbrella. As a result, the Oregon AHEC Scholars program was launched in the summer of 2018 with 87 total students from two medical schools (Oregon Health & Science University [OHSU] and College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific Northwest [COMP-NW]), two PA programs (OHSU and Pacific University), a family nurse practitioner program (OHSU), a dental program (OHSU), and a pharmacy program (joint program between OHSU and Oregon State University). Consequently, the Oregon AHEC Scholar program serves as a prime example of how to combine a passion for rural and underserved care with education to meet the diverse health care workforce needs of our state.


The Oregon AHEC Scholars program was created with multiple options for completion in mind. From the beginning we wanted to allow each participating school and program to create tailored rural and underserved didactic and clinical learning experiences for their students with support from the Oregon AHEC Program Office. For instance, an Oregon AHEC Scholar student might participate in grand rounds while on their rural clinical rotation or go to the state rural health conference. Additionally, a student may take a rural health focused elective course at their institution or attend a centralized didactic event hosted by the Program Office. One such example is the Oregon AHEC Scholars Journal Club. Once a month the Oregon AHEC Program Office hosts a Journal Club designed to explore the literature relevant to rural and underserved care. AHEC Scholars students are given the opportunity to discuss articles related to interprofessional education, behavioral health integration, cultural competence, social determinates of health, and new models of care delivery. After the in-person Journal Club session, students post a short reflection where other AHEC Scholars students can respond, offer insight, and provide their own thoughts. Since starting the Journal Club in September, we have had a lot of interest from our schools and programs. This resulted in getting a larger room for the in-person discussions and adding a live-stream component to allow remote participation.


In late September we held an Oregon AHEC Scholars Kick-Off event where all 87 students were invited to meet their fellow AHEC Scholars, hear a keynote address, and engage in meaningful discussions about the their desire to provide care to rural and underserved communities. One AHEC Scholar student remarked, “It was great to finally have the first exposure to what this AHEC Scholar program is going to be like. It was nice to meet those individuals from outside the PA program while seeing all my AHEC PA-student peers in one place.” The Kick-Off event was such a success that we plan to continue doing it each fall.



The sign-in table for the Oregon AHEC Scholars Kick-Off event with some free swag. 



The Oregon AEHC regional Centers have been hard at work engaging with the AHEC Scholars students as they arrive in their regions for clinical experiential learning. Starting this fall, each Center has been hosting monthly Focus Groups to learn about the student’s experience as it relates to Interprofessional Practice and Education (IPE) along with their observations of collaborative team-based care delivery. The Center Directors have enjoyed serving as local ambassadors while meeting the AHEC Scholars students who are sometimes spending upwards of 12-weeks in their region. Additionally, our regional Centers and the Oregon Rural Practice-based Research Network (ORPRN) are playing an active role in collecting meaningful data on the clinical environment the students are going to. Through the use of the ACE-15 tool, we have begun to assess the environment from the clinical team perspective. We plan to utilize the expertise of ORPRN and our participating institutions to provide continuing education and professional development to the AHEC Scholar clinical sites.


One area we have put a considerable amount of effort towards is how to incentivize students to apply for the Oregon AHEC Scholars program. From the beginning, we wanted to partner with other organizations who had programs with similar missions and goals. Early on in the development of the Oregon AHEC Scholars program, we partnered with the Oregon Office of Rural Health and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). The Oregon Office of Rural Health runs the state healthcare incentive programs for OHA. One specific program, Primary Care Loan Forgiveness (PCLF), is a scholarship designed for students who have participated in a formalized “rural track” while completing their health professions training. Prior to this year, the PCLF program was only open to medical students, PA students, and nurse practitioner students because these were the only schools who had formal rural tracks. As the Oregon AHEC Scholars program began to take shape, we advocated for the expansion of the types of professions who could apply for the PCLF scholarship. We felt it would not only incentivize students to apply for the AHEC Scholars program, but also address the diverse workforce needs of our state. Just prior to the launch of Oregon AEHC Scholars, OHA authorized the expansion of the PCLF program to include any AHEC Scholar student thereby doubling the number of eligible professions who could apply for PCLF. We are very excited to have had a part in increasing the loan forgiveness options for the health professions’ students in our state and create another great reason for students to become Oregon AHEC Scholars.


Over the next year we plan to expand Oregon AHEC Scholars to include a second pharmacy program, a graduate psychology program, and a social work program (all at Pacific University). We are very encouraged by the positive response and engagement of our partnering institutions. Ultimately, we hope the Oregon AHEC Scholars program becomes a national leader in rural and underserved health education through creativity, collaboration, and scholarship!


For more information, please contact Curt Stilp at stilpc@ohsu.edu.





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