North Carolina AHEC Program
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Exposure to Rural Health Gives Students Better Understanding of Population Needs

Future Leaders

The theme for the 12th Annual Future Leaders in Healthcare Conference, “See Yourself in Rural Health” offered students a chance to focus on the NC AHEC mission of addressing the health care needs of underserved communities and populations. The statewide conference is held annually for high school students who have participated in AHEC programs throughout the year. This year’s conference was held on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke from May 20-22, 2011. “This conference provides students with strategies, information and the tools to become the successful health care professionals of tomorrow,” said Yanci Evans, BA, conference chair for Southern Regional AHEC, who served as this year’s host.

Dr. Whitfield with Future Leaders studentOne of the highlights, according to the students, was Saturday’s plenary speaker, Rani G. Whitfield, MD, aka Hip Hop Doc (photo right with student). In his presentation, Whitfield showed the students how he mixes his love of music with positive health messages to the communities he serves in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and beyond. Whitfield used ‘rapping’ to demonstrate how he educates teens and young adults on health issues using his own rhymes and producing his own videos. “With hip-hop culture having such a large influence on young adults, Tha’ Hip Hop Healthy Coalition brings artists, celebrities and athletes, along with a fun and inviting atmosphere, to effectively reach such a highly influenced group,” says Whitfield on his approach. His website can be found at

Following Saturday’s lunch, North Carolina Senator for District 21, Eric Mansfield, MD, shared his inspiration for entering the medical field as an Otolaryngologist (ENT) and his experiences as a freshman senator. Mansfield also spoke to students about the changing face of health care. Cedrick M. Bright, MD, of the Durham VA Medical Center, closed the conference with the Larry Keith Memorial Lecture on Sunday. Bright remarked on the conference agenda saying, “I have taken a look at it and I can tell you that it is very robust, to the say the least.” NC AHEC Program Director Tom Bacon, DrPH, encouraged students to continue their academic work towards a career in health care and to look to AHEC as their greatest resource and partner during their time as a student and as a professional.

Throughout the three-day conference, students were engaged in activities that helped them become more familiar with the Native American culture of the local community. Dream catcherThese activities included creating a Dream Catcher (photo right), under the instruction of Ramona Moore Big Eagle, MEd, of Dare to Soar Enterprises. Students also listened to Indian folklore, presented by Ramona Moore Big Eagle, in full Tuscarora Indian regalia. Additionally, students took part in informative breakout sessions on topics integral to rural health such as: infant mortality and adolescent health, biotechnology, health disparities, and economic impact as well as Native American rural health and an overview of Mental Health First Aid.

As part of the ISIS (Inspirational Speakers in Science) Lecture, two medical students from North Carolina universities spoke to conference attendees about their journey to become medical professionals. Franklin Diaz was 19 years old when he went to the dentist for the very first time. Growing up, he constantly felt toothache pain, but didn’t have the resources to see a dentist. After attending Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, Franklin transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill, hoping to be the first person in his family to graduate from college. During this time, he had a chance to see a dental student on the UNC School of Dentistry campus. Franklin told the students that the dental visit changed his life, not only relieving his constant pain, but making such an impact that he decided to become a dentist himself. Franklin worked hard to keep up his grades so that he could be accepted into the same dental school that made such a difference in his life. He outlined his five steps to success:

  1. Unstoppable confidence.
  2. A burning desire - make definite goals and take them with you everywhere you go.
  3. Be an intelligent planner; he plans his work and works his plan.
  4. Offer service to others; be willing to serve others because you inspire your friends to become better and you will perform at greater levels.
  5. Make it a habit of doing more than what is required; always be ahead of the pack.

Carla Thomas, who attends NC State School of Veterinary Medicine, also gave examples from her own personal experiences to help students envision their academic challenges ahead.

The NC AHEC Health Careers and Workforce Diversity (HCWD) Initiative, consisting of recruitment programs and the ten AHEC HCWD programs throughout North Carolina, the NC AHEC Program Office, and the NC Health Careers Access Program (NC-HCAP), seeks to increase the numbers of minority and disadvantaged individuals in the health professions throughout the state by maintaining and expanding effective academic and community partnerships. The program strives to collaborate with existing programs and identify gaps in the academic pipeline. This system of formal and dynamic partnerships seeks to link graduate and undergraduate institutions, community colleges, local school districts, health care agencies and communities to create an environment that attracts students into the health professions educational pipeline from kindergarten to professional practice.

This annual conference is just one way that the NC AHEC HCWD links students, education and health care together toward the common goals of creating a larger and more diverse health care workforce.