Nonprofit Spotlight: High Sierra Area Health Education Center
High Sierra AHEC is part of a nationwide network of Area Health Education Centers developed by Congress in 1971 to recruit, train and retain a health professions workforce committed to underserved populations.
The purpose of the national AHEC program is to meet the needs of the communities they serve through robust community-academic partnerships, with a focus on exposure, education, and training of the current and future health care workforce.
Through the collaboration of staff, partners, volunteers, and program participants, High Sierra AHEC serves the counties of Carson, Churchill, Douglas, Lyon, Storey, and Washoe. They provide resources for healthcare workers at all stages of the pipeline, from aspiring young minds to medical students to practicing professionals. Their innovative programs aim to combat the shortage of professionals in the healthcare workforce and provide opportunities for students to become leaders in the medical field.
High Sierra Area Health Education Center (AHEC) is deeply committed to providing equitable and comprehensive opportunities; engaging in outreach that exposes young people from groups underrepresented in the healthcare workforce to role models and mentors; further inspiring their pursuit and tangibility of a healthcare career. Receiving national recognition and awards, their programs target first-generation, low-income, and rural students.
Presently, High Sierra AHEC has varied programs with a focus toward this overarching goal at primary, secondary, and higher education levels:
- CSI: The Science of Justice Camp and Health Care Heroes Camp focus on primary school students in grades 5-8, providing hands-on learning experiences that expose them to a variety of healthcare careers via a peer-to-peer mentorship teaching model.
- Project Prevent and Project Reach Out and Revitalize Rural (ROARR) focus on providing foundational knowledge of our healthcare system and health literacy to Title I middle and high school students in frontier and rural service areas. Content delivery is provided by High Sierra AHEC’s qualified Student Ambassadors, resulting in meaningful mentorship, interaction, supportive services, and program participant retainment.
- High Sierra AHEC Student Ambassadors are the vehicle to the continued development and implementation of all primary outreach programs. Through their volunteerism they engage with the community and deliver curriculum to their younger peers; advancing their career readiness, professionalism, and employability skills.
- Nevada AHEC Scholars are health and medical students that continue to expand upon their healthcare knowledge and experiences at the graduate level through complementary and comprehensive experiential, clinical, and didactic curriculum. Committed to a two-year training program, their engagement contributes to the development of better-trained and engaged future healthcare leaders and changemakers. Today, the Nevada AHEC Scholars Program has over 75 active participants representing over 10 healthcare disciplines.
In addition to these staple programs, High Sierra AHEC adapts to new and emerging needs in their communities through the expansion and modification of initiatives. For example, as high schools in Nevada closed in response to COVID-19 and transitioned to online/distance learning, High Sierra AHEC responded through the rapid development of 16 online high school modules.
These modules were created specifically for their Student Ambassadors and the Nevada AHEC Scholars and have now been opened publicly so that health professions students across the state could have access to online training opportunities. They have been shared with district advisors, teachers, and counselors across the state, providing health-focused education to over a thousand students.
High Sierra AHEC also works collaboratively with a number of organizations to address public health issues on both state and national levels. In collaboration with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, High Sierra AHEC has been coordinating with local partners such as the Reno-Sparks NAACP to bring COVID-19 education and awareness to the African American community.
The organization has also hired a Disease Control Specialist, who in support of the CDC’s COVID-19 Pregnancy Surveillance Project works collaboratively with the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Office of Public Health investigations and Epidemiology (OPHIE) to identify, track, collect and report data on positive COVID-19 cases among pregnant individuals and neonates.
High Sierra AHEC has also been a recognized champion of the National AHEC Organization’s HPV immunization project and has provided over 4,000 healthcare providers with HPV vaccination education and awareness over the last six years.
Nevada faces a significant shortage of healthcare providers. Eleven of our seventeen counties are considered primary care health professional shortage areas (HPSAs), federal designations that indicate healthcare provider shortages that may be geographic, population or facility-based. Across the state, 67.3% of Nevadans reside in a primary care HPSA.
Now more than ever, our communities need qualified healthcare professionals and effective programs for recruiting and training the next generation.
Through the provision of education and outreach, High Sierra AHEC will continue to combat these health disparities across the state through their health care workforce development pipeline initiatives and their ability to pivot and to partner, innovatively addressing new public health demands.
This content is sponsored by High Sierra Area Health Education Center (AHEC). Go to highsierraahec.org to learn more.
Construction could begin next year and require about 500 to 600 workers, with a permanent workforce starting at 150 to 200 people with potential to expand.