North Carolina AHEC Program
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NAO: Supporting the Development of the Nation's Primary Health Care Workforce
Reprinted from the NAO 2010 Annual Report
In 1971, Congress established the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program with the goal of strengthening the primary care safety net for underserved populations. AHECs address this goal by recruiting students to careers in health professions; assisting with health professions student training— particularly interdisciplinary training in rural and underserved areas—and helping to recruit and retain providers in underserved areas. As President of the National AHEC Organization (NAO), I wish I could say that the goal has been met, and that there are primary care providers and ancillary health professionals in sufficient quality and quantity to eliminate “underserved” areas. However, disparities persist due to factors such as fewer medical students choosing primary care, changes in demographics, and increases in costs of health care and health insurance. The AHEC program is more relevant than ever.
The 56 AHEC programs with their 240 regional centers are invested and active in their communities, creating a unique collaborative network of medical schools, nursing programs and allied health training programs with community training sites and employers. In 2010, Congress demonstrated their appreciation of the value of AHEC program by reauthorizing it as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Although challenges continue, 2010 has been an exciting and productive year for NAO. A series of conversations with the National Health Service Corps led to a contract to pilot a project to expand the College Health Service Corps to five states. NAO’s technical assistance contract program, called “ATrACC,” was formed and began providing valuable webinars and other technical assistance services to NAO members. NAO’s bi-annual conference was held in Las Vegas, bringing together over 650 AHECers for four days of education and networking. In October, NAO hired its first paid staff, as Rob Trachtenberg was named Interim Executive Director. In a unique opportunity that arose out of meetings between NAO and Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) leadership, a workgroup was formed, known as the NAO/Bureau of Health Professions Workgroup. The intent was to develop broader, deeper channels of communication between HRSA and NAO. The workgroup allowed NAO to learn a great deal about the development process of grant guidance and to make recommendations to HRSA for the 2011 guidance.
All of these successes and milestones are the result of many hours of volunteer leadership and the “can- do” attitude and creative spirit that embodies AHECs across the country. NAO is maturing as an organization. We have a common purpose, shared activities, and are moving forward to meet the intent of Congress set in 1971 and reaffirmed in 2010.
Locations of AHEC Programs and Centers across the United States