In June, Scenic Rivers Area Health Education Center (SRAHEC) was awarded an AHEC Center Award for Excellence at the 2016 National AHEC Organization (NAO) conference. The award was given in the category of Special Community-Based Programming for SRAHEC’s Rural Health Tours. The Rural Health Tours, hosted four times a year, is a clear example of connecting students with community based programming, specifically in rural areas of southwest Wisconsin.
Although the tour agenda changes to match the needs of the students and region, the premise is to take students from the healthcare field on a day-long trip into their communities, introducing them to the services available. “There was a desire to show students different public health service agencies and see them first-hand,” SRAHEC staff recalls. It is a lot of information to absorb in one day, but students’ testimonies from the program are overwhelmingly positive. It seems the physical trip truly brings the purpose of community health to fruition – more so than a secondhand report in the classroom. One student reflected, “Thank you for allowing all of us to have this experience. It was very educational and a great way to introduce public health. I think it is amazing what these people do for those who are underserved and less fortunate! Many were great role models and provided great insight.”
The Rural Health Tour Program, now in its sixth year, has come a long way from initial ideas between SRAHEC staff and Viterbo Nursing professors. Since the program started in 2009 there have been over twenty tours, involving fifteen community partners and directly impacting over 500 healthcare students. As healthcare policy continues to shift towards population health, it is critical that students are aware of the public health agencies in their communities and how they can integrate those services into primary care as they enter the workforce. Even though these students may be entering fields of direct patient care (e.g., nursing) having the background information of public health available will benefit their career, patient care and our future workforce.
This award was in addition to the overall Wisconsin AHEC Program taking home the Program of Excellence Award that recognized the collaboration of all seven Wisconsin AHEC regions. The focus of the Scenic Rivers’ advisory board has always been collaboration- and the dedication to relationship building has paid off. The staff of SRAHEC are humbled by this national recognition and would like to thank all of our partners for their willingness to support innovative programming such as Rural Healthcare Tours.
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