WVU strengthens rural, underserved health care workforce through $7.2 million grant

West Virginia Area Health Education Centers (WV AHEC) will continue to enhance education and training networks within communities, academic institutions and community-based organizations thanks to a five-year, $1,442,500 per year grant renewal.

The grant, awarded by Health Resources & Services Administration, an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, supports five Centers located throughout the Northern, Eastern, Southern, Southeastern and Central regions of the state.

Working closely with the Institute for Community and Rural Health and implemented through the West Virginia University School of Medicine, WV AHEC seeks to increase diversity among health professionals, broaden the distribution of the health workforce, enhance health care quality and improve health care delivery to rural and medically underserved areas and populations.

“The overarching goals of the West Virginia Area Health Education Centers include diversity, distribution and practice transformation,” Jessica StidhamRural Community Health Scholars program manager, said. “Working toward these goals, the grant supports the Rural Community Health Scholars program, community-based experiential training, interprofessional education and pipeline programming that serves West Virginians through the development and maintenance of a health care workforce that is prepared to deliver high quality care in a changing health care delivery system.”

WV AHEC currently serves high school students interested in health professions, college students enrolled in health professions programs and working health professionals in 50 of the state’s 55 counties.

“By growing and nurturing our workforce, West Virginia residents will benefit from an increase in access to care from providers who truly understand their local community,” Stidham said.

The Rural Community Health Scholars program helps prepare individuals to work in rural and underserved communities by providing supplemental educational opportunities focused on social determinants of health, cultural competency, virtual learning and telehealth, behavioral health integration and practice transformation, interprofessional education, connecting communities and supporting health professionals, and current and emerging health issues.

Health professions students at institutions throughout the state enrolled in a variety of degree programs, including medicine, nursing, dentistry, psychology, pharmacy and public health, benefit from the WV AHEC Rural Community Health Scholars program’s didactic and community-based experiential training activities. They also have the opportunity to participate in interprofessional training activities through community health initiatives. For high school students interested in health careers, WV AHEC provides pipeline activities such as career shadowing and presentations. Continuing education opportunities are also available for practicing health professionals.

“Participating in this programming provides a foundation for WVU health professions students to not only critically assess the needs of rural populations in West Virginia, but also see how they can work together as an interprofessional team to mitigate the barriers to health care facing our communities and create change for West Virginians,” Stidham said.

“I believe I am a well-rounded physician because of the Rural Community Health Scholars program,” Dimitri Tito, D.O., a WV AHEC Rural Community Health Scholars program alumnus, said. “I was born in a suburb of Douala, Cameroon, which is where my passion for rural medicine started. I joined the program to equip myself with skills and interprofessional education experiences necessary to practice in rural areas, and this program has prepared me to view populations I serve through a culturally-appropriate lens.”



MEDIA CONTACT:  Christie Zachary
Program Manager for Student Outreach and Marketing
WV Institute for Community and Rural Health
304-293-0224; christie.zachary@hsc.wvu.edu

Photo: West Virginia Area Health Education Centers (WV AHEC) recently provided the opportunity for students to participate in an interdisciplinary rural immersion experience at the Normantown Historical Community Center (Nov. 11) and the Mountaineer Food Bank (Nov. 12). In partnership with WVU Extension, the students engaged in hands-on learning related to food preservation, food insecurity, chronic disease and cooking on a budget. Joined by WV AHEC Northern Region Executive Director Amanda Fisher, participants included Morgan Bland, John Brosky, Payten Brown, Emma Garland, Kimberly Halsey, Trevor Lovell, Keaton Moore, Caleb Shrout, Allison Smith, Haley Smith and Thomas Williams. (Submitted photo.)