Arizona Area Health Education Center welcomes CERE as Regional AHEC Center

June 21, 2023

The Center for Excellence in Rural Education will support health care and health education in the eastern Arizona counties of Gila, Graham and Greenlee.

street in rural Payson

The Center for Excellence in Rural Education will officially join the Arizona Area Health Education Centers Program at the University of Arizona Health Sciences beginning July 1. 

The CERE-AHEC is one of six Arizona Area Health Education Regional Centers. The mission of the Arizona AHEC Program is to enhance access to quality health care, particularly primary and preventive care, by improving the supply and distribution of health care professionals through academic-community educational partnerships in medically underserved areas as part of the Federal Area Health Education Center Program. More than 3.3 million Arizonans live in Health Professionals Shortage Areas, as defined by the Health Resources and Service Administration.

“We look forward to great things in our collaboration with the Center for Excellence in Rural Education,” said Daniel Derksen, MD, senior advisor and principal investigator of the AzAHEC Program and associate vice president for health equity, outreach and interprofessional activities at UArizona Health Sciences. “The Arizona AHEC Program works with community-based collaborators, and we have a wonderful new partner for this part of the state.”

Based in Globe, Arizona, the CERE-AHEC serves Gila, Graham and Greenlee counties. The CERE’s parent organization, the MHA Foundation in Payson, Arizona, has supported health, health care and education in rural Gila County since 1958, when it was known as the Mogollon Health Alliance.

“It is quite an honor to partner with not only the University of Arizona Health Sciences, but also with the tri-county community to support our young adults to meet the critical needs of our medical community,” said CERE-AHEC Director Jennifer Smith, MBA, MS, CPed. “Having been a rural clinical educator for much of my career, I bring an empathetic approach to this position, both from the clinical and educational side as well as from the student perspective.” 

Since 1984, the Arizona Area Health Education Centers Program has served the state through health professions workforce recruitment, training and retention in rural and underserved communities. In addition to six regional centers located throughout the state, the AzAHEC program partners with nine Rural Health Professions Programs from the state’s three public universities, as well as various graduate medical education programs.

“The eastern Arizona region is really rich with opportunities for health care professional students,” said Leila Barraza, JD, MPH, director of the AzAHEC Program and associate professor of community, environment and policy at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. “We’re very excited for students to be able to do rotations in this region and have opportunities to be exposed to working in this area of the state.”

During fiscal year 2021-2022, the AzAHEC Program included 1,531 health profession trainees representing more than 40 universities and residency programs participating in over 450,000 community based clinical and experiential training hours throughout the nation. Through the AzAHEC Regional Centers, nearly 4,500 health professionals participated in continuing education and professional development events, and nearly 1,000 students in Grades K-12 participated in structured health career pathway programs.

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