AHEC Scholars Program Gathers Speed in Arizona, Nationally

2019 BISLE

With the goal of developing a nationally-renowned program to prepare interprofessional rural health workforce, the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) program has worked closely with the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) across the nation to design the AHEC Scholars program.

Bringing Interprofessional, Experiential Training to Arizona

In its third year now, the Arizona AHEC Scholars Program (ASP) is an innovative two-year community-based interprofessional and experiential training program. The program is coordinated by the AZAHEC Program Office at the University of Arizona, (UA) and implemented through Arizona’s five AHEC Regional Centers and the Rural Health Professions Program (RHPP) of the University of Arizona (UA), Arizona State University (ASU) and Northern Arizona University (NAU).

AHEC Scholars combines didactic learning with community immersion. Students learn about rural and underserved populations through interprofessional, collaborative practice. Scholars work in teams with the AHEC regional center and the team’s faculty mentor. Students begin their experience with a community immersion and then for the following two-year time frame they participate in reflection, active learning and critical inquiry. Learning modules include social determinants of health, cultural competency, behavioral health integration, practice transformation and current and emerging health issues. They also learn how collaborative relationships, team-based care and interprofessional approaches to problems are used in the context of community agencies, patients and health care providers. The Scholar’s work culminates in both a presentation at the annual rural Health Professions conference, held at the UA in Tucson and an academic project.

“Participating as a “SEAHEC Scholar” was one of the highlights of my graduate experience! I got to do hands-on, real-world work with students from many different health disciplines, as well as SEAHEC staff, local experts, and high school youth. SEAHEC taught us that when different health professions pool their expertise, they can tackle a problem from multiple angles at once – this can be a powerful strategy for improving community health. Health is definitely a team sport, and it was such a privilege to work and learn with this team!”

Micaela de la Rosa, MPH / MPA student, University of Arizona

Course Structure

Each AHEC Center is assigned up to 15 scholars per cohort. Faculty from each of the Universities RHPP carefully select and mentor students to make up each interprofessional Scholar cohort. SEAHEC’s first and second-year cohorts, provided invaluable service through conducting a community health needs assessment and community health projects. Cohort 1 (2018-2019) focused their health needs assessment on substance abuse, perceptions of opioid use, and prevention and treatment in Nogales, Arizona. Gathering important information in a community-wide survey, scholars were then able to present back to our Santa Cruz County Opioid Consortium, where health and social service agencies, law enforcement and other agencies were able to receive information on local perceptions. The information was so valued that one agency requested that the survey be expanded to include the community of Rio Rico. So, cohort 2 of AHEC Scholars (2019-2020) conducted a health needs assessment including information on opioids in Rio Rico. As part of their community health project, they then developed a health education intervention that was shared, virtually, with the AHEC Future Health Leaders summer camp participants this past summer.

With the recent launch of Cohort 3 (2020-2021), the Scholars will be immersed in the farmworker community of Winchester Heights, Arizona. Their community health assessment will be conducted addressing farmworker health issues. Due to COVID, this year’s scholars were unable to go to the community itself, but were provided with a virtual tour of Willcox, Winchester Heights and the surrounding area.

Fall, 2020 Evaluation

After each session, SEAHEC polls students on their experience in the course. Despite the challenges of moving a community-based learning experience online, students expressed a high level of satisfaction with the course and found their virtual experience to be “informative,” “well thought out,” and helped them understand the characteristics and health needs of rural communities in a meaningful way.

“It really helped me understand what type of community the rural area we focused on was. Including the resources they had available, or lack of, how close knit the community was and how they have worked together to improve certain things within their community.… This was a really good presentation with a lot of good/ pertinent information. I enjoyed the virtual windshield survey and I was able to learn a lot in this online immersion experience,” one student said.

Comments from other students included:

2020 AHEC Scholars Mariana Felix & Francisco Javier Romo

2020 AHEC Scholars Mariana Felix & Francisco Javier Romo were featured in SEAHEC’s 35th Anniversary success stories booklet.

“It was very informative and through the pandemic it was a nice way to get to know the others in my cohort!… I enjoyed hearing from my peers and the leaders at SEAHEC about what they do especially with me being from Douglas and recognizing a lot of these same issues.”

“I felt it was very thorough and well thought out. I appreciated seeing the research aspect and then being able to visibly see the area to get a better understanding. The faculty was great at providing information about the community. I truly learned a lot about the community and some of the needs they have. It was a great experience.”

“It really helped me understand what type of community the rural area we focused on was. Including the resources they had available, or lack of, how close knit the community was and how they have worked together to improve certain things within their community.… This was a really good presentation with a lot of good/ pertinent information. I enjoyed the virtual windshield survey and I was able to learn a lot in this online immersion experience. “

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