MADISON – In December, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a federal agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), released the funding opportunity announcement for renewals of the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) grants, for the five-year period from 2017-2022. The announcement indicated the intention to fund up to 55 AHEC programs, the current number of federally-funded AHEC programs.
Under the leadership of Wisconsin AHEC Program Director Brenda C. Gray, PhD, staff from the program office and all of our seven regional AHEC centers came together to prepare an application. Our 80-page proposal seeks $11.8 million for the five-year period of funding.
During the development process for our application, we carefully reviewed the new HRSA requirements, which require AHEC programs to shift away from high school pipeline health career programs in favor of efforts targeted at students further along their academic path, with special emphasis on advanced students in post-bac health professions disciplines. Starting in 2017, if funding is approved, only up to 10 percent of AHEC funds can be used for pipeline programs, such as Wisconsin AHEC’s health careers summer camps and high school outreach visits. The new HRSA requirements also restrict the funds that can be used for continuing education to less than 10% of the total award. The work plan in our proposal maintains the current breadth of longstanding AHEC activities related to the recruitment, training, and activities for high school students and continuing education events for health professionals; however, going forward, many of these activities will be coordinated collaboratively with other program partners, rather than AHEC staff independently overseeing implementation.
The future of Wisconsin AHEC will see continued expansion of medical student clinical and community-based training in rural and underserved areas. Our funding proposal emphasizes a strong focus on providing experiences for medical students, through continuation of the community engagement projects (an extension of the work AHEC conducted in collaboration with the UW SMPH Primary Care Clerkship from 2011-17).
“The future of Wisconsin AHEC will see continued expansion of medical student clinical and community-based training in rural and underserved areas.”
A significant new initiative in the HRSA requirements is the creation of an “AHEC Scholars Program.” In Wisconsin, we will engage our strategic partners to launch this program after a collaborative planning period. Each AHEC Scholars cohort of at least 105 students will be in the program for two years, and culminate in the completion of their health professions degree/certification. AHEC Scholars programming will include interprofessional training opportunities, with focus in rural or underserved areas and populations.
The shift towards more strategic partnerships will enable Wisconsin AHEC to accomplish these goals. During the application process, Wisconsin AHEC received many letters of support and memorandum of understanding which highlighted AHEC’s current partnerships and strong base of ongoing support. Letters of support for our federal grant application came from Senator Tammy Baldwin; Wisconsin State Representative Mark Pocan; Dr. Robert Golden – Dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health; and many more (see sidebar on page 2). We are grateful for the continued support and encouragement to proceed in accomplishing the AHEC mission and eagerly await the response from HRSA to our application for continued funding in 2017-22.