The Area Health Education Center for Western Washington at Whatcom Community College works with the national AHEC movement to support healthcare delivery systems and access to care through activities that strengthen the healthcare workforce in rural and urban-underserved communities.
AHECWW is actively implementing a range of projects to strengthen the quality, diversity, and distribution of healthcare workforce in rural and urban-underserved areas of western Washington. Explore our primary projects through the links below to learn more:
AHECWW works with the University of Washington School of Medicine to coordinate a four-week, elective immersion experience for medical students. The program is called The Rural and Underserved Opportunities Program (RUOP) and it places students between their first and second years of medical school in community medicine in rural or urban underserved communities throughout the WWAMI region (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho).Preceptor applications are accepted each year in December.
Students work in clinics and hospitals with preceptors, experiencing their first extended clinical involvement. RUOP provides students with an early exposure to the challenges and rewards of working with rural and underserved communities and develops in students a positive attitude toward rural and urban underserved community medicine. Students also benefit from learning how community health care systems function.
- Students implement their expanded history-taking and physical exam skills, participating in a full range of clinical activities. They experience what it is to be a physician.
- Practicing doctors act as role models and provide clinical teaching that can shape students’ professional choices.
- Many RUOP students plan to combine their clinical work with a community medicine experience.
Students also complete a web-based community medicine course with UWSOM mentors.
- Learning about the social determinants of health.
- Assessing the community for health strengths and challenges.
The University of Washington School of Medicine Magazine featured the inspiring story of a similar program (called TRUST) in this article “Spurred to Succeed,” in spring 2018.
AHECWW recruits physician preceptors working in rural and urban-underserved communities throughout western Washington during the winter. Medical students are matched with participating sites during the spring, and summer rotations begin in late June. Contact AHECWW for more information on how to become a preceptor: info@AHECWW.org.
Additional information about the preceptor role and responsibilities is detailed on the University of Washington School of Medicine website for the RUOP program.
AHEC Scholars is a nationwide HRSA/AHEC branded certificate program to prepare and promote a diverse, skilled primary care workforce in rural and underserved communities. The program consists of didactic and clinical/experiential/community learning focused on six core topic areas:
- Interprofessional education
- Behavioral health integration
- Social determinants of health
- Cultural competency*
- Practice transformation
- Current and emerging health issues
Visit Student Resources for more information about AHEC Scholars.
*AHECWW prefers the term cultural humility, which acknowledges that mastery of a finite body of knowledge may not be appropriate. Instead, cultural humility invites us to practice the lifelong commitment to self-evaluation, redressing power imbalances, and developing mutually beneficial advocacy partnerships with communities. (Definition adapted from Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998)
As part of our work to support recruitment and expose high-school aged youth to health careers, AHECWW hosts Scrubs Camps and facilitates the expansion of Scrubs Camps across the state.
What is Scrubs Camp?
Scrubs Camp is a one-day workshop for high school students to explore health careers. Scrubs Camps are designed to increase awareness, interest, and understanding of health careers available in Washington through instruction and interactive activities. Students hear presentations from health care professionals and/or educators, and participate in hands-on activities, while also learning about the education and skills required to become a health professional.
What will I do at Scrubs Camp?
Scrubs Camp is often held in the healthcare labs at the local community college. Some camps have also been held at community buildings. Faculty, staff and community members give presentations on healthcare programs offered on that campus. Student are immersed in experiential learning about careers such as Nursing, Medical Assisting, Physical Therapy, Emergency Medical Technicians, Massage Therapy, Dental Hygiene and other fields represented at the local campus. Presenters engage students in hands-on activities like drawing blood, listening to a heartbeat, experiencing electrical stimulation, conducting spirometry assessments, practicing massage techniques and other job-related tasks. A healthy lunch is provided for students along with snacks to keep them energized throughout the day. An advising session is included to inform students on academic pathways for healthcare careers and each student is given resources to take home.
Scrubs Camp is a great way for students interested in a health career to find out all the possibilities and prepare for their next steps in education. Participants get concrete guidance on the training programs required for different types of healthcare careers, including information on financial options.
Scrubs Camps are scheduled for Port Angeles (March 20, 2020), and Tacoma (March 27, 2020) and Bellingham (summer date to be determined).
Scrubs Camp is ready to expand in western Washington
AHECWW looks forward to exploring ways that Scrubs Camp can be adapted to your region. This program has the potential to showcase your healthcare education programs, and also offers an opportunity to partner with industry to highlight local health career options. Let’s collaborate to help address healthcare workforce shortages by building academic pathways!
AHECWW launched Washington State's first Health Professions Affinity Community (HPAC) program in 2018 to encourage high school students to explore healthcare careers. HPAC is a facilitated student activity that meets at participating high schools. Students in the HPAC learn to identify community health issues under the guidance of an AmeriCorps College Access Coordinator. Activities include presentations by healthcare professionals, field trips, and tutoring. HPAC focuses on students from diverse populations that are under-represented in health professions.
AHECWW continues its partnership with AmeriCorps Campus Compact to continue the pilot project at three Whatcom County high schools in the 2019-2020 school year.
Visit Student Resources for more information about HPAC.
If you are a student at one of the three participating schools in Whatcom County and you'd like to participate in HPAC, click here to fill out the HPAC photo release form.
Continuing Education and CME
AHECWW supports didactic and experiential training activities focused on the HRSA Core Topic Areas by providing two Continuing Medical Education sessions annually. AHECWW's Resources page features upcoming free and low-cost CME offerings. Check the calendar for more trainings.
AHECWW partners with regional healthcare organizations to support and promote key seminars, conferences and workshops. The Northwest Rural Health Conference in March 2020 in Spokane will include several sessions offering CME sponsored by AHECWW.
CME presentations in 2019 included:
- AIDS Clinical Conference: Stimulant Use and HIV Dr. Stephen Shoptaw, September, 2019, in partnership with the Mountain West AIDS Education and Training Center at University of Washington
- Medications for Opioid Use Disorders and Hepatitis C
Dr. Judith Tsui, June 26, 2019, in partnership with the Northwest Addictions Technology Transfer Center
- Responding to the Opioid Epidemic: Leveraging Care Integration
Dr. Don Teater and Martha Teater, November 2019, in partnership with the Northwest Regional Primary Care Association
Stay in the know: Subscribe to AHECWW for news, events, and trainings about rural health from us or our NWRHC partners.
AHECWW partners with local communities and organizations to periodically offer Mental Health First Aid trainings for professionals and community members throughout western Washington.
In partnership with Island County Human Services, AHECWW will conduct a Mental Health First Aid training on:
- Friday, February 28, 2020, at Coupeville, Washington. Register here.
Visit Community Resources for more details about background and resources for Mental Health First Aid.
Register for the 2020 Northwest Rural Health Conference March 23-25, 2020, at the Davenport Grand in Spokane WA. The 2020 conference theme is "Rural Values: Shaping Care -- Inspiring Success."
The Northwest Rural Health Conference addresses varied facets of providing health care in rural settings including critical access hospitals, rural emergency medical services, rural health clinics, home health and other health organizations.
Sponsorships available: Establish your company as a critical conference partner by providing connectivity to attendees during sessions. Get high visibility for your brand! Complete the sponsorship application.
The University of Washington School of Nursing, Kaiser Permanente Washington, and AHECWW have partnered on an innovative Nurse Education, Practice, Quality and Retention (NEPQR) Program, "Registered Nurses in Primary Care," to meet ambulatory care education needs. This is a $2.8M grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
The purpose of the four-year training program is to recruit and train nursing students and current registered nurses (RNs) to practice at the full scope of their license in community-based ambulatory care teams. This work will emphasize chronic disease prevention and management in health professional shortage areas (HPSA), medical underserved (MU) and rural ambulatory care settings.
AHECWW participates in the partnership advisory committee for this project, helping to develop immersive rural clinical placements for participating students, with the aim of increasing recruitment from underserved communities and improving the diversity of the nursing workforce.
- Washington State has an RN shortfall that is expected to grow over the next 12 years
- The RN shortfall is greatest in rural Washington, where the number of RNs is only 665 per 100,000 population (compared to 853 per 100,000 for urban areas)
- Chronic disease rates are increasing along with a growing and aging population, amplifying the need for RNs in ambulatory care
AHECWW works with partners across the state to make it easier for healthcare students to map their academic pathway to healthcare and STEM certifications and degree programs. Many outreach programs throughout the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho (WWAMI) region strive to bring individuals who are under-represented in the health care fields toward college level training in the health sciences. In particular, AHECs work to identify resources and opportunities for under-represented and disadvantaged students with the goal of creating a more equitable healthcare workforce reflective of the communities served.
Northwest Health Career Path (NWHCP) Project
The NWHCP project's main objective is to help young people connect to programs and resources that collectively form a pathway to their chosen healthcare career. The project includes collaboration among a wide spectrum of career outreach programs and organizations that support students along this "career pathway." Health career pathways provide an opportunity for students from diverse backgrounds to explore health careers through experiential learning. The project planning team includes:
- Washington State Allied Health Center of Excellence
- UW School of Medicine Service Learning Program
- OSPI Health Science Program
- UW School of Medicine Center for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
- Health Science Career and Technical Educators
NWHCP includes two main components: the NWHCP website and the annual Summit.
1. NWHCP website:
The primary audience for the website are middle school, high school, undergraduate, or post-graduate students and community members interested in becoming health professionals, the website highlights programs that serve young people from groups identified as underrepresented in the healthcare fields, including ethnic, racial, socioeconomically and geographically disadvantaged, or LGBTQ. The interactive site provides resources, links and a map to help find information on summer camps, shadowing opportunities, after school programs, workshops, internships, college access programs, and more!
- Learn about opportunities in the health sciences and STEM
- Experience hands-on activities
- Prepare academically
- Attend programs that help you build your resume
- Explore a wide variety of health based careers
This website is also a tool for staff and administration working in the career pathway system. Help us create a health workforce that is reflective of the people of our communities by adding your program to our map. This can be done by filling out the NWHCP survey. Put your program on the map and help us spread the word!
2. Northwest Health Career Path Summit:
Annual summits engage stakeholders and provide a mutually beneficial event including opportunity for networking, professional development, student stories and perspective, and promising practices. This summit provides an opportunity for administrators and staff who work across the healthcare career pathway system to convene to address a common set of objectives:
- Create a venue to discuss how career pathway programs can address health disparities, workforce shortages, and navigation through health career paths
- Achieve greater success by working together in coordinated “career pathways,” linking regional programs and events with students and community members
- Collaborate on recruitment of students from underserved, rural, and under-represented populations into health careers
- Improve awareness of and access to STEM and health career programs
- Connect students to programs and resources to help overcome barriers to health career pathways for underserved, rural, and under-represented populations
- Gain a clearer view of other services/programs in their respective region and specialty area - allowing organizations to identify gaps and bridge them
- Provide professional development and share best practices among staff and volunteers in STEM and health career programs
Check the AHECWW website's "Resources" page for additional information, under the Student Resources link.
Washington Health Workforce Gateway
As part of the statewide effort to recruit and retain health professionals working in rural and urban medically underserved areas, AHECWW participates in the Washington Health Workforce Gateway (a project of Washington Resources Group) to plan and provide presentations to student groups and training sites related to workforce recruitment and retention in underserved areas.
Visit the Washington Health Workforce Gateway website to learn more about the how the WHWG ensures that Washington has the dental, primary care and behavioral health workforce needed to build healthy communities.
Strengthening the Local Nursing Workforce for Rural and Tribal CommunitiesAHECWW conducted an assessment of needs and possibilities for a distance-learning program to train talent--and address nursing shortages and distinctive healthcare needs--in rural and tribal communities. View the report here.
AHECWW offers Cultural Humility trainings for health professionals, students, and community partners and is in the process of planning a series of offerings for the 2019-2020 project year. Below are some on-line training resources that provide a useful foundation for beginning to apply Cultural Humility principles in clinical practice:
- Cultural Humility: People, Principles and Practices - Part 1 of 4
- Toward Health Equity: Mindfulness and Cultural Humility as Adult Education
- Cultural Humility: A Concept Analysis
Behavioral Health Workforce Expansion
AHECWW has also been in collaboration with the UW Advancing Integrated Mental Health Solutions (AIMS) Center and the Allied Health Center of Excellence to promote a process via the Washington State Mental Health Summit to develop educational, licensure, and certification programs for medical paraprofessionals in behavioral health at the bachelors and associates degree levels. Work group members have been collaborating on pathway development and AHECWW participated in the Inspiring Innovations Summits, held in Spokane and Seattle, spring 2019, to explore actionable steps toward workforce expansion.
Center of Excellence for Integrated Health Solutions
The National Council for Behavioral Health, through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is now the home of the Center of Excellence for Integrated Health Solutions. The National Council provides innovative and cost-effective resources and strategies for integrating primary and behavioral health care. Fostering Resilience and Recovery: a Change Package provides a toolkit for primary care organizations incorporating trauma-informed care. Contact them for a free consultation today.
About the Host College
Whatcom Community College is a regionally and nationally accredited college with an accomplished faculty and staff who serve nearly 11,000 students annually. On its 72-acre campus in Bellingham, Wash., and through online courses, Whatcom offers transfer degrees, professional-technical training programs, as well as basic education, job skills, and Community & Continuing Education classes. According to the Aspen Institute (2016), WCC is rated among the top nine community and technical colleges in the state and recognized as one of the leading community colleges in the nation. Established in 1967, Whatcom has been accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities since 1976.
Additional project-specific funding supports AHECWW work from the Chuckanut Health Foundation for the HPAC program, and the Perkins Special Projects Grant from the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, for the Primary Care Needs Assessment project.
This project is/was supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number U77HP03022, for the WWAMI Area Health Education (WWAMI AHEC) Program Office and its five regional Centers in the total amount of $679,700 for the 2019-2020 fiscal year (with a 1:1 total match of $679,700 from non-federally funded governmental sources). This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.