North Carolina AHEC Program
winter 2012 newsletter | home

Director's Message

Tom BaconAs we enter 2012, NC AHEC remains grounded in its mission and core programs, while responding to a rapidly changing health care scene, both in North Carolina and at the national level. In order to assure that we remain on the cutting edge in an era of health reform, we initiated a new strategic planning process at the annual AHEC Directors retreat this past summer. Throughout the fall, the AHEC staff across the state held a series of meetings with key stakeholders to gain input from them on the programs and services they value most from AHEC, and to seek their input on how AHEC can be most responsive to their educational and service needs moving forward. We also surveyed our own faculty and staff in order to gain their wise counsel on where they feel we are strongest and how we can position ourselves most effectively to thrive in 2012 and beyond.

Although the process is ongoing, and will not be completed until the spring, several major themes have emerged, and at a recent meeting of the senior AHEC leadership from around the state, the group identified areas of focus for developing strategic initiatives in the coming months.

In meetings across the state and with our own faculty and staff, we heard time again that the AHEC mission is sound and we need to maintain our core programs and services. Further, those with whom we work value AHEC’s neutrality and its ability to collaborate with a broad array of academic and community institutions and agencies. Particularly at the state level, our partners value the statewide AHEC infrastructure and the capacity it offers to roll out important educational and support initiatives which reach all parts of the state in an efficient manner.

While acknowledging our strengths, are stakeholders believe we remain too siloed in our various programs, often reflecting the silos of the academic health center. We have strong programs with students, with practicing health professionals, and with residents, but too often we do not integrate those efforts into a comprehensive approach to workforce development. We also need to integrate horizontally, combining our strengths in continuing education with our new capabilities in practice support, and with our educational technology capabilities such as the AHEC Digital Library and AHEConnect.

Not surprisingly another major theme is the need to continue to take advantage of new technologies in order to augment the programs we currently offer and to make AHEC programs more accessible and affordable in the coming years. In particular, young learners want to be able to access services through social media, through online courses, and in other ways allow them to gain the content they need while still having opportunities for face to face learning from mentors, community preceptors and AHEC-based faculty.

In an era of health care reform, with its common themes of improved quality and reduced costs, we need to be training health providers to work in teams. AHEC is uniquely positioned to create opportunities for Inter-professional education, particularly in the community setting. We can no longer afford to have providers working in isolation, and AHEC is the ideal vehicle for supporting model teaching practices, health departments, long term care facilities, and community health centers that prepare students for practice in the 21st Century.

Our stakeholders around the state also reminded us that we need to be data-driven in all of our activities. This means building more robust data systems to identify educational needs, and better clinical data from the practices with whom we are working to be able to measure improved patient outcomes and better population health. In addition, it implies continued investments in our historic commitment to provide high quality analyses of the health care workforce in the state, a capability we have maintained through our strong partnership with the staff at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC-Chapel Hill. This unique resource we have at Sheps is a national model and deserves our continued investments of AHEC support.

Finally, our own staff reminded us that we need to remain an employer of choice for health professions educators, clinical educators, librarians, and others involved in training students, residents and health professionals. At a time when many AHEC employees have not had a pay raise in over three years, it is essential that we seek creative ways to provide professional development opportunities and other support to allow our faculty and staff to remain on the cutting edge in their respective fields and continue as valued members of the AHEC team.

There are a number of other important themes emerging, and as these are further refined and strategic initiatives developed, we will share with all of you the results of our strategic planning process. We value the input that many of you have provided to us over the last six months, and look forward to our continued work together in the years to come.

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