AHEC - North Carolina Area Health Education Centers Program
Touched by an AHEC: Stories from 100 Counties
Eric Nickens

Eric Nickens
public health education specialist, Albemarle Regional Health Services

Gates County | Eastern AHEC

Eric Nickens, public health education specialist, Albemarle Regional Health Services

Back in the summer of 1994, a rising eighth-grader named Eric Nickens was the youngest student in the first-ever Ventures Into Health Careers Institute, a two-week AHEC summer program at East Carolina University. Ventures is a supervised residential program that targets highly motivated minority youth and is designed to introduce students to careers in health care. He has been a strong supporter of AHEC and its programs ever since.

“Undoubtedly, the Ventures program through Eastern AHEC helped me truly decide that I wanted to pursue a career in the medical field,” he said.  “Having the opportunity to shadow medical professionals at Pitt County Memorial Hospital and the ECU Brody School of Medicine at age 14 was, at the time, the biggest thrill of my life.”

The follow-up components such as SAT prep, time management skills workshops, and motivational speakers were also beneficial, Nickens said. “It helped us all to realize that following our aspirations to become medical professionals would not be easy, but there was constant encouragement to keep pushing and not give up.”

A Gatesville native and Gates County High School 1999 graduate, Nickens initially attended UNC-Charlotte. He transferred to ECU where he received his B.S. in health education and promotion with a community health concentration in May 2004. He began his career as the youth tobacco prevention coordinator with Albemarle Regional Health Services, and soon started contemplating a return to school

“This past May (2008), I graduated from East Carolina University with my M.A. in health education and promotion. With much urging from my co-workers, my parents, and some of the Eastern AHEC Health Careers/Workforce Diversity staff that I've come to know over the years, I started my master’s via distance education in January 2006 and continued to work full-time.  Needless to say, I'm thrilled to have it behind me!

“In September 2006, I was promoted into a general health promotion position with Albemarle Regional Health Services,” Nickens continued. His new position covers seven counties: Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Gates, Pasquotank and Perquimans. “As a public health education specialist, in addition to promoting healthy lifestyles, I have even more opportunities to reach middle and high school students and share my experience working in the health care field.  This is especially apparent, now that my office is based in Gates County...the very same county where I grew up.  It does feel strange walking into schools here and having teachers and staff recognize me from when I was a student.  However, I do get that warm fuzzy feeling inside when they beam with pride in telling their current students, ‘I taught Eric in the __ grade, and since then he has gone off to college, obtained two degrees, works at the health department, and has made us all very proud.’
“I also have Dawn Grant at Eastern AHEC for getting me even more involved with the North Carolina Chapter of the Society for Public Health Education (NC SOPHE).  I am currently the chair of the Public Relations Committee and have been nominated to become Vice President for 2008-09.” 

Tashara James, Eastern AHEC’s assistant director of health careers and workforce diversity, confirms Eric’s ongoing commitment to their staff and programs. “Eric continues to drop by when he attends continuing education programs that we host and keeps us updated on what he's doing. He also continues to offer to speak to our current health careers students about his journey in becoming a health care professional.”