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Through the Lens of an Intern: Learning about NWRPCA & Community Health

Friday, December 14, 2018   (0 Comments)
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Shelby Schumacher

Marketing & Communications Intern, NWRPCA

I had never heard of the Northwest Regional Primary Care Association when I first applied to their Communications and Marketing Internship. When I started to explore the website I opened up a whole new world.


My first day in the office came with pages of terminology and their acronyms that I learned as quickly as I could. As a sports photographer and Communications student at the University of Washington, I know from experience that every sport and job has its own jargon. Hearing words like “parachuting” in public relations and “punt returner” in football without any context can be quite overwhelming. Sometimes I wish that I could walk through life with a special dictionary that defines everything everyone says that I don’t understand. The healthcare landscape is a complex one, filled with multiple moving parts so a dictionary like that would help a great deal.


My introduction to NWRPCA was no exception to this and, in many ways, was more intense than learning what is happening on the football field. Not only was I not familiar with healthcare terminology, but I also realized I did not know what exactly a community health center is. My familiarity with the healthcare system in general was minimal (and in many ways still is).


For those brand new to the community health landscape and/or NWRPCA, this article serves as a crash course that explains basic terminology unique to the health care sector and the CHC movement. Whether you are working with NWRPCA for the first time, are a current or future CHC patient, or are someone who is interested in educating themselves on how this part of the healthcare system works, I hope this article helps inform people transitioning to this part of the healthcare world.


To start everything off, I am including my own version of an acronym list. This is in no way complete, but it is something to help you get started in the health care sector.

Community health centers began in the 1960s, on the tails of the Civil Rights Movement. The first U.S. health center opened in December of 1965. Located in Dorchester, MA the Columbia Point Health Center was founded by two medical doctors: Dr. H. Jack Geiger and Dr. Count Gibson. CHCs function as providers in areas that would otherwise not have assistance. They not only serve as sources of healthcare for lower income and migrant populations but also are centers for diverse communities that provide human, cultural, housing and educational services. CHCs are split into regions across the United States with Region X consisting of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.


CHCs become essential for communities not just for the healthcare that they provide but also the jobs they create in these communities. This positive feedback becomes vital for the sites where they exist, especially when they are in rural areas where jobs are scarce. 


 PCAs provide resources and support to CHCs in training and technical assistance and can be either state or regional. There are currently only two regional PCAs: NWRPCA, which supports Region X and CHAMPS which supports of states in Region VIII. Look at this HRSA page for more specific information on PCAs.


The NWRPCA team provides support through many different avenues to CHCs and MHCs in Region X. There are three conferences that they put on each year: the Fall Primary Care Conference (put on in partnership with CHAMPS and WCN), the Western Forum for Migrant & Community Health, and the Spring Primary Care Conference. These events seek to inspire unity while also educating people on policy changes, healthcare techniques, etc. as well as create networking opportunities. They also organize other trainings, both in person and via webinars, throughout the year and NWRPCA members receive significant discounts for these. Many of these professional development trainings are Continuing Education credit opportunities (Ex. CPE, CME, CDE, CNE, HR, and GOV). Other areas of support that NWRPCA offers are through networking opportunities, recruitment and retention efforts, business intelligence, and leadership, awards, and recognition. See https://www.nwrpca.org/page/member_benefits for more details.


Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington also each have their own state PCAs, which NWRPCA works with to achieve the goal of strengthening CHCs and MHCs. An upcoming training series entitled, "Recruitment & Retention Learning Collaborative: Building a Culture of Retention," is a prime example of a region-wide partnership between NWRPCA and state PCAs as well as the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved.


Most are not aware of the person behind the camera, just as most are not aware of the work that is being done behind the scenes to ensure the success of the community health movement. Hopefully by pointing out some of these details you can better understand how CHCs are vital to communities and PCAs are vital to CHCs. 




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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