About RHEN and AHEC
RHEN began in the early 1990s with support from the Nebraska Legislature. By partnering with communities across the state, UNMC developed a volunteer faculty network, who serve as preceptors for health profession students. This allows students to receive part of their professional education in sites away from the main UNMC campuses.
The initial focus of RHEN, to develop health profession student training off campus, broadened in 1993 when UNMC embarked on an even greater challenge: to encourage students from rural communities to consider a career in healthcare. Our first programs, the regional and state science meets, aimed at meeting this goal and continue today with many of our past participants going on to be health professionals!
At the same time that RHEN was developing, a special initiative, the Rural Health Opportunities Program (RHOP) was beginning as a partnership with Wayne and Chadron State Colleges. RHOP is recognized as a successful program with more than 70 percent of its graduates working in rural communities.
While UNMC has developed a national reputation for its outreach programs, there was still a need for something more. Trying to reach across a 500-mile state to work with communities was more than a reasonable challenge and yet continual contact with communities was essential in the overall goal to “grow our own” health care professionals.
In 2000, UNMC applied for federal funding from the Health Resource Services Administration (HRSA) to help carry out its mission of recruiting and retaining rural health care providers. In September 2001, the first Area Health Education Center (AHEC) opened. Today there are five AHECs that service all areas of the state.
While the RHEN office developed the foundation for the successful programs Nebraska has today, the AHECs have lent the local flavor and are able to tailor programs to meet the needs of individual communities.
Because of the interdisciplinary nature of its programs and activities, the RHEN Office was originally housed under the Chancellor’s Office rather than within a particular college at UNMC. When the College of Public Health was established in January 2007, the new college became the most logical place for RHEN.
According to Jay Noren, M.D., dean of the College of Public Health, the move makes sense. “Public health is very much a multidisciplinary endeavor. It’s vital that we establish strong ties in the state with experts in many different areas, including medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, all allied health areas, public administration, education, government, behavioral sciences, political science, social work, law and communications,” he said. “We also will be dealing extensively with colleagues in health and human services and education institutions throughout the community. RHEN’s connections across Nebraska will assist in the development of these collaborative relationships.”
When RHEN moved to the College of Public Health on January 19th, the Nebraska AHEC offices moved to the College of Medicine and will remain under direction of Dr. Michael Sitorius and Roxanna Jokela as the Deputy Director. AHECs provide activities that focus on recruitment, retention and community health needs within their service areas.
Together we continue to make a difference!