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Sheppard appointed to lead West Virginia Area Health Education Centers

The West Virginia University Institute for Community and Rural Health has welcomed Brianna Sheppard, Ph.D., as director of the West Virginia Area Health Education Centers Program, effective April 15.

In this role, Sheppard will lead the West Virginia AHEC Program Office in Charleston, overseeing project planning and implementation in the state for five regional Centers and building partnerships with federal and state government agencies that help improve health for rural and underserved populations.

“It is a distinct pleasure to welcome Brianna Sheppard back home to West Virginia and the WVU Institute for Community and Rural Health,” Larry Rhodes, M.D., executive director rural programs, said. “Bri not only brings significant expertise in research, training, mentorship and leadership in rural health, but more importantly a true passion for those living in rural and underserved areas of Appalachia. The entire state will benefit greatly from her decision to return to the West Virginia hills.”

Sheppard returns to WVU after serving as associate director of rural health workforce and center development at the National Center for Rural Health Professions at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford. Prior to joining the National Center for Rural Health Professions, she held various positions at WVU including research and leadership roles with the WVU Health Affairs Institute, West Virginia Clinical & Translational Science Institute and Institute for Community and Rural Health. She also served as faculty for the School of Public Health and Office of Research & Graduate Education.

“I am excited to be back at WVU and serving the state of West Virginia through the important work of the WV AHEC Program, which provides opportunities for students to explore healthcare careers and train to become the next generation of high-quality healthcare providers that our state deserves,” Sheppard said. “The Program also provides opportunities to support our dedicated healthcare professionals and partners across the state who work hard to make West Virginia a place that people want to live and work. I am grateful to be entrusted with leading the WV AHEC Program as a driver of workforce development and positive change for the state.”

Sheppard is a member of various professional organizations, including the National Rural Health Association, National Area Health Center Organization and Appalachian Translational Research Network, among others. She has authored several peer-reviewed journal articles, and she frequently presents her work on health education, health assessment and rural health. In addition to scholarly work, Sheppard has served as a mentor for numerous undergraduate and graduate students.

Sheppard holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and a master’s degree and doctoral degree in psychology from East Tennessee State University. She completed postdoctoral education at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Pain Research.

The Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Program was developed by Congress in 1971 to recruit, train and retain a health professions workforce committed to underserved populations. The West Virginia AHEC Program’s mission is to improve the health by developing an interprofessional workforce prepared to address the health needs of rural and underserved communities across the state. Program priorities include introducing health profession careers and offering opportunities for academic enhancement to students in grades 9-12; providing health professions students and residents in higher education with clinical experiences in community-based settings; promoting the optimal use of the healthcare workforce and improving quality of care delivered through interprofessional collaboration; and strengthening the existing healthcare workforce in rural and underserved areas and supporting the retention of community-based health professionals.