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.
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 Montana HOSA: Future Health Professionals, one of seven Montana Career and Technical Student Organizations. 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.
WMT-AHEC does not provide health science instruction, but we do facilitate various educational or workforce related activities and programs. We focus our “healthcare workforce” efforts in three areas:
- Career Awareness
- Education and Training
- Workforce Development
A description of the above areas are described on the Advisory Board page.
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.
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. As a result, our healthcare workforce efforts are focused on rural or underserved healthcare issues. The Billings, MT medical residency program indicates that 69% of their graduates are currently practicing in Montana, many in rural locations.