North Carolina AHEC Program
fall 2009 newsletter | home

Director's Message

Tom BaconThis is an exciting time for everyone working in the health care field, including those of us in health professions’ education. Although it is not at all clear where reform will wind up when Congress has finished its work, it does seem clear that there are important opportunities for those of us working to prepare a health professions workforce for the 21st Century. Preparing a larger and more robust primary care workforce must be one of our priorities.

A major focus for AHEC since its inception over 35 years ago has been the training of primary care providers to meet the needs of vulnerable communities. Some recent analyses by our colleagues at the Sheps Center for Health Services Research show that the AHEC-based residency programs have graduated over 2,900 primary care physicians in the past 35 years with nearly half of those still actively practicing in North Carolina. For family practice residents, the retention rate in North Carolina is nearly 60 percent. Regardless of how health care reform goes, we will need to expand primary care residency training in the state, and a substantial part of this expansion needs to occur within the AHEC residency programs or in new programs affiliated with the AHECs.

We will also need to collaborate with our university colleagues to expand training for nurse practitioner and physician assistant students. It is clear from the experience in the U.S. and elsewhere that the way to deliver care that is both cost effective and of the highest quality is through the use of interdisciplinary teams of providers. It will be critical for North Carolina to expand capacity for training nurse practitioners and PAs, and AHEC’s role in supporting rural community-based training of these students will be a central part of that educational expansion.

A reformed health care system will also require better health information technology tools in order to assist providers in improving quality of care and slowing the growth in costs. AHEC’s quality improvement initiatives will continue to be an important part of these efforts, and providing access to evidence-based practices resources and other decision-support tools will be important opportunities for AHEC as we expand the capabilities of the AHEC Digital Library, support the more effective use of electronic health records, and develop other innovations to improve care.

It is an exciting time in health care, but also one that holds a great deal of uncertainty about the future. Regardless of the way reform goes, however, the AHEC Program has an important role to play in both preparing future providers and in providing them the tools they need to thrive in a rapidly changing health care environment.

Thomas J. Bacon, DrPH
Director, North Carolina AHEC Program