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Students in NEOMED’s Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Scholars Program gather for a photo.

$2.9-million federal grant will help NEOMED attract more diverse students

The federal government has awarded a five-year, $2.9-million grant to NEOMED’s Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Scholars Program, strengthening an essential pipeline that encourages diverse undergraduates to continue postgraduate study in the health professions, ideally in primary care.

Since 2018, 15 AHEC scholars — 12 medicine and three pharmacy — have matriculated at NEOMED, helping the University create transformational leaders and move closer to meeting its mission.

That includes Victor Akinditan, right, a third-year student In the College of Medicine, who says AHEC was instrumental in his decision to pursue a career in health care at NEOMED.

“AHEC was the first place that taught me about the art of motivational interviewing and gave me the opportunity to practice those skills,” said Akinditan, who as an undergraduate worked with older adults to improve their well-being. “The motivational interviewing skills I learned allowed me to be more empathetic with patients. Today, I use these skills throughout my rotations.”

The experience also introduced him to the value of collaboration among health teams.

“My team included students in nursing, exercise science, nutrition and speech pathology,” Akinditan said. “I could see how much patients benefited from this interprofessional approach, and I learned to rely on every member of the team because their individual expertise produced a more comprehensive treatment for my patients.”

Emphasis on empathy

AHEC Scholars attend a four-year university in Northeast Ohio and apply for the program during their second or third year. Over the next two to three years, through highly engaging educational and community-based experiences, they become versed in the social determinants of health, health disparities, and health care delivery and policy.

“The AHEC program also taught me a lot about the social determinants of health and how they affect individual and community health,” Akinditan said. “I was especially fascinated by the impact that physicians can make in minority health. This exposure helped to fuel my passion for being involved in initiatives that improve minority health.”

Increasingly, AHEC scholars find themselves in underserved communities, shoulder to shoulder with social workers, law enforcement and behavioral health professionals, striving to understand and support those being trafficked, those dependent on drugs, those afflicted by dementia and other disabilities.

That’s by design, says Patricia Thornborough, M.S.Ed., the regional director of the Northeast Ohio AHEC.

“These experiences will help students be more career-ready,” she said from her office overlooking NEOMED’s courtyard. “The scholars learn about resiliency, they learn about teamwork, they learn how to de-escalate situations and how to build empathy toward people in crisis. The scholars then enter postgraduate training better prepared for leadership roles in graduate school and in the community as health professionals.”

Interest in the program is rising, with more than 90 scholars in the program today. That’s likely to increase further, given the latest grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Undergraduates who are interested in the program can contact the AHEC Program Office at 330.325.6584 or visit the AHEC Scholars Program’s website.