By Erin Mundy, M.P.A.
Amanda Fischer, a first-year family practice resident in her home state, is a Georgia AHEC success story. Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) were created to respond to the challenges of limited supply and distribution of health professionals in rural and underserved areas of the states in which they are located. The center’s programs recruit students to health careers, support students during clinical training, and promote retention among practicing health care professionals. Amanda spent a significant part of her education making her way through the AHEC pipeline. Growing up in Claxton, a rural southwest Georgia town federally designated as both a medically underserved area and a health professionals shortage area, Amanda graduated as valedictorian from Claxton High School then went on to attend Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.
At Georgia Southern, Amanda was one of the founding officers of the college’s first student organization for pre-health majors, the Association of Pre-Health Professionals. At a meeting, a representative from the Southwest Georgia AHEC spoke to the organization about a program called Pathway to Med School. Pathway to Med School targets rural Georgia college students that plan to go to medical school and pursue a career in primary care. These students would be less likely to get into medical school than their metropolitan-area counterparts without the opportunity that Pathway provides, but they are the most likely to practice in rural areas. While helping these students gain acceptance to medical school, the program aims to validate and sustain their interest in primary care and hopefully keep them in the state after medical school. Participants live in Albany for four weeks in AHEC-provided housing and participate in 160 hours of structured curriculum consisting of 60% clinical shadowing and 40% research. Program participants are provided mock medical school interview opportunities, MCAT preparation, primary care physician mentors, and speaker sessions with the admissions deans from the five Georgia medical schools. Amanda was accepted to the Pathway program in the summer of 2006. From 2004-2010, 53 students have been accepted to the program, 30 have completed the medical school application process and 27 have been accepted. 86% of the students who have completed the medical school application process have been accepted.
During Amanda’s participation in the Pathways program, she met a medical student from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM). The student was completing a clinical rotation in Albany and staying in AHEC housing. Exposure to this student sparked Amanda’s interest in becoming a doctor of osteopathic medicine. After completing the Pathways program, Amanda was accepted to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) Georgia Campus in 2007. During her third year in 2009, Amanda took advantage of a new opportunity through the Three Rivers AHEC in Columbus, Georgia, called the Anchor Program. Designed to address physician shortages in the region, the Anchor Program brings medical students to live in the Three Rivers AHEC region for a year of clinical rotations in community-based training sites in Columbus and LaGrange. Many students accept the opportunity to return for elective rotations in their fourth year. Amanda was among the first twelve students accepted to the program. Since 2009, about 12 students per year have enrolled in the Anchor Program and of those 8-10 return each year for elective rotations.
Amanda completed rotations in other AHEC regions as well. Two were at the Floyd Family Practice Residency Program in Rome, Georgia, where Amanda is a first-year resident today. The rotation experiences Amanda had as a medical student led her to make the decision to apply to the dually accredited residency program.
Amanda is a great example of how Georgia AHECs have found innovative ways to recruit, train and retain students in health careers. Her participation in the Pathway to Med School program led her to apply to medical school, and while enrolled she had the opportunity to complete her clinical training through the Anchor Program. Through other clinical training opportunities with Georgia AHECs, she made the decision to stay in Georgia to complete her residency. Amanda Fischer will graduate from the Floyd Family Practice Residency Program in 2014 and plans to stay in Georgia to practice.
Erin Mundy, MPA, is the Director of Community Based Training Programs for the Georgia Statewide AHEC Network Program Office. Ms. Mundy holds a faculty appointment as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the School of Medicine at Georgia Health Sciences University. In her role she works with six regional AHEC centers and various health professional schools and programs to identify, recruit, and maintain community-based education training sites for health professional students in Georgia.