April 6, 2009
09-065

Jennifer Tanner
Communications Specialist

Allied Health Satellite Office Finds Home at VSU

VALDOSTA - Valdosta State University’s Rea and Lillian Steel North Campus is now home to a satellite office for the Southwest Georgia Area Health Education Center, an organization that works to increase numbers and improve the distribution of the region’s health care workforce.

Established in 1990, the Albany-based 501(c)(3) organization recruits, trains and retains health professionals who will commit to underserved populations. Committed SOWEGA-AHEC employees and volunteers follow through on their mission by arranging training and housing opportunities for students in health education programs; presenting programs to students of all ages to increase awareness of health careers; providing an online medical library service to provide rural practicing healthcare providers with access to medical journals and current research; and offering continuing education programs so that rural practicing health professionals can maintain licensure and clinical skills.

“Research has shown that most healthcare professionals will practice within 100 miles of where he or she is trained,” Denise Famellette, area manager at the Valdosta office explained. “If we can recruit and train a person who lives in our region for a healthcare profession, we will have a greater chance of retaining that person to practice in the region.”

The organization’s strength and success lies in its ability to quickly and creatively adapt initiatives to help address local and regional healthcare issues. Reports showed in 2007, SOWEGA-AHEC arranged clinical rotations, provided free housing and paid travel stipends to over 660 students in health professions education programs. These students received training from physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, physical therapists and many other professionals.

Last winter, South Georgia Medical Center, SOWEGA-AHEC and VSU agreed to participate in a collaborative that would open the first satellite office on VSU’s north campus, establishing a stronger presence and improving allocation of resources in the eastern portion of the organization’s 27-county coverage area. AHEC funds positions in the office provided by VSU and SGMC provides administration for the local employees.

“The purpose of the office was to extend the reach of services within the 27 county area,” SGMC Administrator Randy Sauls said. “Specifically, to provide educational services, support, and curriculum support to area schools that would encourage local middle school, high school and college students to pursue a medical career education.”

The Valdosta office opened during fall 2008 and Area Manager Denise Famellette has since worked hard to identify new clinical training sites in the local office’s nine-county area; develop housing options for students in clinical rotations; and connect with health professions training programs to recruit students to the area.

The local office has conducted many educational sessions with local middle and high school students and even set up tours of local healthcare facilities for students interested in health professions. Health career recruiters are also planning to host health career camps for middle and high school students during summer 2009.

“The SOWEGA-AHEC partnership with VSU and SGMC is essential for the expansion of health care services in our region,” VSU Provost Louis Levy said. “As VSU plans for the expansion of the north campus, our focus will be on further developing a center for excellence for health-related education. VSU will provide degree programs, continuing education, housing, and food venues for students and health professionals who seek additional training.”

Together, the satellite office at VSU and the main branch in Albany, offer a variety of services to promote healthcare professions. From its online library, to a publication filled with healthcare career options, SOWEGA-AHEC is successfully educating students and recruiting professionals for its region. For more information, visit www.sowega-ahec.org .