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The AHEC Scholars Program: Interprofessional Education in Alabama

The role of an Area Health Education Center (AHEC) is often defined by the colloquial expression: Find ‘em, Train ‘em, Keep ‘em – a pipeline reference to the identification, education, and retention of health care professionals. In fact, it is the overarching goal of the federally funded AHEC program to build and retain a strong health-care workforce in rural and underserved counties.

Of the 67 counties in Alabama, more than 81% are considered rural and all but two of those 54 rural counties are health professional shortage areas - which means access to quality health care is a challenge for the residents. It is a challenge that affects overall quality of life and contributes to poor health outcomes for the entire state of Alabama – something the AHECs seek to change.

The AHEC program is administered through the Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. In 2016, HRSA restructured the AHEC model to include “fewer but (more) impactful programs” with an increased emphasis on the post-secondary, health professions student or the Train ‘em part of the pipeline. The objective was to see quicker results in workforce development and to develop more “culturally competent healthcare.” [1]

The HRSA team established the AHEC Scholars program for health professions students interested in extra curricular learning with a focus on rural and underserved community settings. The program requires a two-year commitment and is built around six core topic areas: interprofessional education, practice transformation, behavioral health, cultural competency, social determinants of health, and current and emerging health issues such as the opioid epidemic or the zika virus.

Students will gain knowledge and understanding of other health care disciplines as they work and learn together in team-based setting - through both classroom and clinical training. The outcome will be health professions students who graduate with real experience in patient-centered care when they enter the workforce.

Each AHEC has one year to plan and implement the program. Plans to date include:

Google Classroom: Google Classroom is an online, training platform useful for posting articles, creating learning activities, and facilitating discussions. Staff participation in several Google trainings and testing opportunities proved the system easy to navigate and user friendly.

Book of the Year: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, written by Rebecca Skloot, is a book under consideration a Book of the Year. Our staff found the topic on informed consent well researched and a good study in ethics for students as they prepare to engage in a health-care career and begin to understand the impact of society on health care - including at least two of our core topics: cultural competency and social determinants of health.

TeamStepps. This is a training program designed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the Department of Defense to improve patient safety, communication and teamwork skills. It is an innovative approach and can be beneficial to students as they enter a team-based work environment.

AHEC Scholars Application: The SEAAHEC staff are working with the Alabama Statewide AHEC team to finalize the application process. Plans include an online, interactive form.

The AHEC Scholars program will launch in fall 2018 from almost 250 regional regional AHEC centers in 45 states.


[1] Bezuneh, M. (2015). HRSA - Bureau of Health Workforce Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Program. Retrieved from


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