I n the 1970's, concern over the shortage of primary-care physicians in rural areas led to a Carnegie Commission on Higher Education recommendation to develop a system of Area Health Education Centers (AHECs). The goal of the AHEC program is to improve access to quality, primary health care in medically underserved areas through educational activities designed to recruit, train, and retain community-based health care personnel where they are most needed. AHECs are collaborations among colleges, universities, federally funded community and migrant health centers and sites serving rural and other underserved populations.
The system links communities, particularly rural, remote and underserved areas, with academic institutions to increase access to educational programs for health care professionals throughout the state. Through the AHEC system, these programs can be offered:
Community-based training opportunities for students in varied health professions.
Information services and continuing education opportunities for practicing health care providers.
Health career information for middle and high school students.
The federal government, through competitive grants, makes seed money available to establish AHEC programs and centers. AHEC programs have been established in over forty states.
The AHEC program in Georgia was begun by Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) in 1984 with the establishment of two centers, the Atlanta AHEC (serving three metropolitan areas) and the Tuskeegee AHEC in Alabama. The Atlanta AHEC was later changed to become the Southeastern Primary Care Consortium AHEC (SPCC-AHEC). The second center, the Magnolia Coastlands AHEC (formerly CHEP-AHEC), was begun in 1987 serving 39 counties in central and southeast Georgia. The Southwest Georgia (SOWEGA) AHEC was established in 1990 and serves 38 counties. The Three Rivers AHEC, established in 1994, serves 28 counties in west central Georgia.
Augusta University (then the Medical College of Georgia), in partnership with Mercer University School of Medicine, received a grant in 1996 to operate as a federally funded AHEC. This funding has supported the development of two new centers in northwest and northeast Georgia as well as overseeing the maturation of the Three Rivers AHEC. The program office at Augusta University coordinated the Blue Ridge AHEC in northwest Georgia, serving 20 counties. Foothills AHEC, serving 31 counties in northeast Georgia, followed in 1999.The office at Augusta University coordinated the statewide effort as Augusta University and MUSM became an integrated statewide AHEC program under the management of Augusta University. Augusta University coordinates and manages this diverse partnership of schools, provider organizations and clinical practitioners.