AUGUSTA — A $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration will help Georgia Regents University continue its efforts to diversify Georgia’s health-care workforce.
The five-year grant will continue funding for the Georgia Statewide Area Health Education Center Network, a partnership coordinated by GRU that aims to boost the supply of health professionals and distribute more of them in rural and underserved areas of the state.
“Georgia’s AHEC network is really a partnership of health providers, health-professions students, educators, state agencies and communities, who are committed to resolving these problems,” Executive Director Denise Kornegay said. “That’s done by providing educational support to health professionals — both when they are students and when they are practitioners.”
There are six Area Health Education Centers scattered across Georgia and a program office at GRU. They offer a wide-range of programs, Kornegay said.
“We serve students as they move through the pipeline of health education,” she said. “We help recruit the best and brightest, support them through their clinical training and then we help ensure they stay in the state after they graduate.”
The keys to addressing the state’s shortages are a good foundation and balance across all phases of health-care education, Kornegay said.
“Much of the work we do will not bear fruit for three to 10 years as participants travel across the education pipeline,” she said. “Our work demands investment over time, but it is solid and enduring.”
The process often begins as early as grades K-12, where exposure to health-care careers and an increased focus on STEM — or science, technology, engineering and mathematics — can encourage students to pursue health careers, Kornegay added.
Programming supported by statewide AHECs ranges from partnerships with health-care professionals across the state who serve as community-based preceptors for medical students to supporting travel and housing for students completing clinical training in remote areas of the state. In fiscal year 2011, Georgia’s AHEC network also exposed 27,778 youth to health-career opportunities; provided training, education and resources to more than 18,000 minority students, residents, trainees and practicing health professionals; and supported more than 550,000 hours of community-based clinical education and training.