Jim Schultz had the opportunity to chat with Jessica Wentworth from the Northeast Missouri Area Health Education Center (NEMO AHEC) about the unique situations she faces due to teaching health science in a rural area. Learn more about the challenges faced by instructors like Jessica, and how they use HealthCenter21 to provide a better program to students.
Meet Jessica Wentworth
Before joining the staff at the NEMO AHEC, Jessica studied Health Science with a minor in Psychology at Truman State University in Missouri. During the spring of her Senior year, she completed an internship at the AHEC. Shortly after, there was a job opening and it worked out perfectly for her to start that August.
What made her interested in joining the NEMO AHEC team?
“I had a really broad interest in public health and health education. I was very passionate about working with students that were interested in healthcare, and NEMO AHEC was a really great fit for that.”
What are Area Health Education Centers?
Missouri Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) are a nonprofit organization that focuses on serving rural communities throughout Missouri, and encourages students to pursue careers in healthcare. Along with the Missouri AHECs, there are Area Health Education Centers in every state across the U.S. Each state and region is unique, but according to Jessica they all work together “with the same common goal of trying to provide the best resources possible for our students.”
Very often, the AHECs offer free, individualized career planning sessions to students to help them plan and prepare for the next step to reach their healthcare career goals. One way Jessica’s program does this is by specific work with Career and Technical Centers in the area:
“We schedule field trips for our students to visit and learn about their program. We really bridge that gap in our region where students may have heard something, but they don’t know all about it… we try to connect them to the appropriate resources.”
What Does Success Look Like to Jessica and Other AHEC Staff Members?
Because the Area Health Career Centers are located in more rural areas, what is considered to be a success is somewhat unique. Much like other health science instructors, Jessica believes seeing her students pursue a heathcare career is success, but there’s a little more to it:
“I think a success for us is that students come back to their rural communities and practice either in primary care or some other form… AHECs want to help students get connected to careers and come back and serve in their rural communities because it’s easier to recruit someone that’s from a rural area. It’s kind of a full circle. The students go into healthcare and pursue their education, then we hope they work with us and assist our next students coming along.”
Overcoming the Unique Challenges Faced by an AHEC
Much like the way success is related to the fact that the AHECs focus on serving rural communities, the challenges are as well. In the Northeast Missouri region where Jessica works, their AHEC covers 21 counties in the state. Jessica sometimes faces the issue of travelling long distances to provide workshops and resources for some of her students:
“I drive between close to two and a half to three hours sometimes, just to go to a school and either provide a workshop or something like that. I feel that’s pretty common in most of our regions.”
It is difficult for Jessica and her colleagues to visit all 21 counties and make sure the students have the right resources. This also occurs if students are unable to attend a specific workshop near their area. Jessica has found HealthCenter21 to be a big help in ensuring students have the right resources: “We use HealthCenter21 to really bridge the gap and to be a helpful resource for students we are not able to visit on a regular basis.”
Before using digital curriculum like HealthCenter21, it was a challenge for the different Area Health Education Centers to share resources with each other. The offices would use libraries in their region and set up an online catalog of what books and print resources were available. Other teachers could borrow these items, which would be mailed. Luckily, HealthCenter21 has made it much easier for the instructors to work together:
“It can be really difficult to make connections. We have a community library, which is helpful, but we had to use a lot more of those print resources and try to mail textbooks to let teachers borrow them.
I like that [HealthCenter21] is customizable and really love the distance learning aspect. A big obstacle for us is the distance so HealthCenter21 really helps us connect with students in ways that would be trouble without HealthCenter21.”
Health Science Curriculum Customization Made Easier
A great aspect of the Area Health Education Centers is their commitment to customizing the content for each students’ goals. Jessica shared that they do everything on a by-student basis: “We try to set up our students for success in any way we can. Whatever they ask for, we try to provide.” In a rural area, this is more complicated than it seems – as described earlier with the issues of distance and a lack of resources readily available.
One of the biggest benefits Jessica and the AHEC staff members are seeing from HealthCenter21 is the flexibility and customization options, which align perfectly with their goals.
“I love the flexibility that HealthCenter21 offers. You can really customize workshops and lesson plans as needed. HealthCenter21 has really helped us because it’s very convenient. If a student shows interest then we can just get them the information to access the courses and go from there.”
Helping Students Prepare for HOSA Competitive Events
In the Northeast Missouri region, Jessica and her colleagues mainly use HealthCenter21 with their HOSA students. They want to help their students in the best way they can to be successful with taking knowledge tests and doing the state hosted HOSA competitive events. It seems HealthCenter21 is a good fit for what they are trying to accomplish with the HOSA programs:
“Teachers mainly request HealthCenter21, so they can prepare on their own. They can select modules that are appropriate and they can complete it at their own pace. Because some of our HOSA clubs are a pretty decent size, it gives that instructor time to focus on more students and the whole group as opposed to just helping one person at a time.”
Before using HealthCenter21 with the HOSA students, there was a lack of resources with up to date information the students needed to know for the knowledge tests, since the healthcare field is always changing. As Jessica put it, “HealthCenter21 stays really current and helps students in the best way possible for those exams.“
Advice for Other Health Science Instructors
Jim always finishes each conversation with our users by asking what advice they would give to other health science instructors who want a successful HealthCenter21 implementation. Jessica’s first comment was to mix it up with what topics you cover using HealthCenter21:
“I think my advice would be don’t be afraid to think outside the box. I love the flexibility and the way you can customize lessons based on interest. Maybe even just pairing things together that you might not necessarily think would work right away. I would encourage people to include creative lessons from different disciplines and topics and see how they tie together.”
To those educators who are nervous to try e-learning curriculum, Jessica has some encouraging words:
“Overall HealthCenter21 is very user-friendly. I have found it very helpful and can tell our students and teachers in schools statewide find it helpful. It’s always nerve-wracking to start a new aspect in technology or an area you’re not familiar with. There is a bit of a learning curve, but the customer service for HealthCenter21 has been really helpful. There were times I called and asked for advice or help getting started and they have been phenomenal.”