The Florida Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) is a non-profit statewide initiative for health professional education and support. AHEC provides opportunities to students from various professional backgrounds to form inter-disciplinary environments that focus on addressing local health care issues, as Florida AHEC Scholars. This program allows students to tackle primary health care needs for Florida’s most vulnerable populations through a series of innovative strategies designed to: (1) extend academic health resources, (2) provide information and support for community providers, (3) influence health professions education, (4) influence the future health professional workforce. There is a total of five universities that host program sites. Each are responsible of hosting multiple counties throughout the state so that the entire state is accounted for. At the University of Florida, our AHEC program is divided into the Big Bend AHEC, Northeast Florida AHEC, Suwanee River AHEC and West Florida AHEC. A total of twelve counties (Marion, Putnam, Alachua, Bradford, Union, Columbia, Hamilton, Suwanee, Lafayette, Dixie, Levy, and Gilchrist) are covered under the universities AHEC.
As a first-year Master of Public Health candidate, I discovered AHEC through a class announcement very early in my first semester. Pursuing a career working with minority populations as a physician and public health professional, the interdisciplinary focus and drive for primary care really sparked my interest and passion for the program. The program requires a two-year commitment where scholars serve underserved populations, gain experience working in teams, learn how to transform healthcare and earn a stipend at the end! There are roughly a total of 150 students ranging from medicine, physician assistant, public health, dentistry, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychology, nursing, and pharmacy. We each apply to our specific site – in my case, Suwanee River AHEC – provide a resume with honors and awards, and a list of experiences. The application also calls for a personal narrative that can be chosen from a list of topics. After the application is submitted, a brief fifteen-minute interview is conducted so that the Executive Director and Special Projects Coordinator are able to interact with you and possible questions can be discussed.
Upon acceptance into the program, scholars are expected to participate in community events that promote health. Last semester, I had the opportunity to participate in the annual Gator Greater Health Fest hosted by the College of Pharmacy. The purpose of the health fest was to display a wide range of health recommendations and tips on physical and mental health, nutrition, men and women’s health, immunization, HIV/AIDS and much more. This opportunity allowed me to connect with community members and students to form a greater sense of community and trust. I also had another opportunity to collaborate with students from the College of Pharmacy to present to students at Mebane Middle School on the field of public health and pharmacy. Presenting to the students gave them an opportunity to see how various fields in health care work together to improve the overall health of individuals and communities. Coming from mostly minority backgrounds, these students were able to interact with us as we talked about some challenges that we also face as minority students pursuing careers in fields where representation and diversity is needed.
Because of the previous opportunities and upcoming opportunities that AHEC has provided and will provide me with, I am improving my cultural sensitivity and cultural apprehension skills while also learning about various fields of health care. This program is diverse and allows students to practice skills learned in the classroom in community settings. As an AHEC scholar, I am more confident in my goals to become a physician who practices public health in the future because I am gaining experience now that will be crucial to my development later on.
If anyone has any questions about AHEC, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Romae Morgan is a 1st year Master of Public Health student with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Science. With an intended graduation date of May 2021, Romae aspires to enter medical school where her goal is to use her passion for public health to face health disparities as a future physician. She is interested in primary care with a focus on social determinants and preventative diseases within minority populations.