Act Locally, Especially When it Comes to Recruiting and Training Health Care Professionals

NVAHEC Delivers Training to Address Northern Virginia’s Unique Health Care Needs
When it comes to health, the old saying “think globally, act locally” has never been more apropos.  The need to act locally is what makes Karen Brown’s role as director at the Northern Virginia Area Health Education Center (NVAHEC) so important.  “My role is to help build community and academic partnerships that will effectively identify and address the health education needs of our region,” explains Brown who brings extensive experience in recruiting and preparing students for health careers to the NVAHEC. The region includes Loudon, Fairfax, Arlington, and Prince William counties – some of the fastest growing and most diverse counties in Virginia.

With a projected shortage in the number of health care workers needed in the region and a notable gap in the diversity of health professionals, the NVAHEC is charged with building a health care workforce pipeline that reflects the communities they will be called on to serve.

Brown and the AHEC serve as a bridge between the community and the academic environment. She collaborates with community partners to identify the region’s most pressing training and education requirements and works with educators to develop curricula that reflect the unique needs of the counties. Resilience, cultural competencies, and working with immigrant populations are currently among the most pressing training needs in the NVAHEC.

NVAHEC plays a variety of roles in making training happen– depending on what’s needed. “Sometimes our role is to provide a location or to bring people together—like for the TB training we’re helping coordinate with the Virginia Department of Health—and other times we will coordinate the event and operationalize the services-- as we are doing for the Telehealth Certificate Training this summer,” says Brown.

Building a Hub for Northern Virginia Health Professionals
Brown explains that “Our goal is to become the hub for Northern Virginia health professionals—whether that means providing continuing education for current providers, educating undergraduates, or working with high schools to early-identify students interested in health professions. We want to develop workers at all levels who are ready to serve in the quickly changing health care environment.”

The NVAHEC is moving toward becoming the clearinghouse for continuing education of all health professionals in Northern Virginia, with the goal of connecting professionals with the best, most in-demand training available, whether offered by George Mason or a community partner best-suited to deliver that training. As an example, NVAHEC recently partnered with the Inova Health System to develop and deliver a cultural competency curriculum.

The College of Health and Human Services at George Mason – The Go-To Partner for Health Education and Training
The decision to house the regional AHEC at the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University reflects the College’s capacity to train, certify, and graduate thousands of the most highly qualified health professionals as well as the highly diverse student population at the College—with more than 40% of students identifying as African American or Hispanic and a significant number of first-generation college students.

CHHS is the go-to partner for training initiatives across the state. The College has received a 2-year $4 million U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant to further develop a pipeline of providers in rural and underserved populations and a 5-year $8.3 million Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant to provide training in substance use interventions and referrals (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment- SBIRT). To further advance training in the region, CHHS will open the first-ever Population Health Center on the Mason Fairfax Campus where students and professionals will get hands-on training in telehealth and interprofessional care delivery.