AHECs, together with health professions schools, departments and programs, provide community placements, service learning opportunities and clinical experiences for medical, dental, physician assistant, nursing, pharmacy and allied health students in rural and urban underserved communities.
AHEC placements give students the opportunity to experience health care in a real-world setting far removed from their health science centers. They interact one-on-one with their future patient population in community health centers, county health departments, homeless clinics, local practitioners’ offices and other community primary care sites. Students learn firsthand about economic and cultural barriers to care and the specific needs of underserved and ethnically diverse populations. Students who have experienced a rotation in a rural and/or underserved setting also perform better on board or standardized testing than students who did not participate in a rotation.
Local health care providers, acting as preceptors, benefit from the teaching experience while local areas receive thousands of hours of health care from students who bring up-to-the-minute health care innovation and education to the clinical experience.
AHECs, with their linkages to local community resources and organizations, are uniquely qualified to facilitate these placements. Current research has shown that health care professions students who have participated in these experiences have a better understanding of the complex needs of underserved communities. They are also motivated to provide additional community services and set up practices in similar areas after graduation.