National AHEC

What’s an AHEC?

AHEC stands for Area Health Education Center.  The AHEC (Area Health Education Centers) program was developed by Congress in 1971 to recruit, train and retain a health professions workforce committed to underserved populations.  The AHEC program helps bring the resources of academic medicine to address local community health needs.

In 1985, the Montana AHEC was implemented at Montana State University in Bozeman.  In September, 2007, the MSU College of Nursing applied and was awarded a grant from the Health Resource Service Administration to establish 4 regional AHEC offices in Montana, in addition to the Bozeman Program Office.  In 2007, The South Central AHEC office was set up in Dillon, under the auspices of the Montana Hospital Association, and the Eastern AHEC office was set up in Billings, at Riverstone Health.  The Western MT AHEC, at The University of Montana, in Missoula, was established in 2008, and the North Central AHEC was established in Fairfield.  In 2014 the NC-AHEC and SC-AHEC offices moved to Helena, at the Montana Hospital Association offices, and in 2015, the newest North Eastern Montana AHEC office was established at the Montana Health Network, in Miles City.  Each region has a program director, an advisory council, and works to develop healthcare workforce strategies for their own region.

Why would a high school or college student contact you?

Occasionally, a high school student will contact us for assistance with setting up a job shadow at local healthcare facility or with questions about post-secondary programs.  MT AHEC works closely with  school districts and offers R.E.A.C.H. (Research and Explore Awesome Careers in Healthcare) programs and MedStart Camp for high school students (see K-12 Programs).  MT AHEC is a strong proponent of HOSA (Health Occupations Student Association) (see K-12 Programs).  Since one focus of our K-12 Programs is encouraging interest in healthcare careers, representatives from the MT AHEC regional offices attend state college fairs, state teacher/counselor association conferences, and individual high school career fairs.

College students who are pursuing a career in the health sciences contact our office for any number of reasons, most often for information regarding rotations, clerkships, loan repayment programs, etc. (see Students).  WMT-AHEC now houses the Missoula WWAMI (WA, WY, AK, MT, ID) medical program office, so post-secondary medical students are in our office on a regular basis.

What actual “health education” do you do?

WMT-AHEC does not provide health science instruction; we facilitate and, oftentimes, fund instruction (and healthcare services as well).  WMT-AHEC designs programs and secures grant monies which are used to connect students to instruction and communities to services.  Some recent examples follow:

  • REACH (Research & Explore Awesome Careers in Healthcare) brings middle and high school students on site at Montana hospitals to explore a mutlitide of healthcare career options (see K-12 Programs).
  • Coordination of PNWU clinical rotations works to bring health care professionals to rural Montana.
  • The Rural Mental Health Collaborative was designed and funded through HRSA grant monies (see Health Professionals).

How does WMT-AHEC’s work affect me?

Montana’s economy is dependent upon a sound, affordable, accessible healthcare system.  Montana’s rural nature poses a threat to those who lack immediate access to quality healthcare – and though it’s hard to believe, some of Montana’s counties are still without a primary and/or mental healthcare facility. 

It is estimated that nationally 2.4 million new healthcare jobs will be open by 2014. In Montana, we expect to see 1638 new healthcare job positions by 2014, including 873 practitioners and 765 healthcare support positions.

Studies have shown there is a strong correlation between growing up in a rural area, training in a rural area, and staying to practice in a rural area.  Of the 531 Montana physicians who have graduated through the WWAMI (WA, WY, AL, MT, ID) medical program, 55% are practicing in Montana.[i]  The Billings, MT medical residency program indicates that 69% of their graduates are currently practicing in Montana, many in rural locations.

[i]  “Economic Impact of Montana’s Medical School Executive Report,” Tripp Umbach, Feb. 14, 2011, Pittsburgh, PA.