Oregon AHEC Scholars

AHEC Scholars is a national program grant funded through the Health Resource & Services Administration (HRSA). The program is intended for health profession students who are serious about pursuing careers with rural and/or underserved communities after graduation. This innovative program will enroll 75 – 125 students annually from multiple universities and academic programs in Oregon. AHEC Scholars students will be instructed in concepts of Interprofessional Education (IPE), patient safety, social determinates of health, behavioral health integration, cultural competency, and practice transformation in a series of in-person and/or web-based didactic sessions designed to enhance their understanding of rural and underserved health care. Additionally, AHEC Scholars students will have the opportunity to complete community-based experiential training at rural and/or urban underserved sites across the state. In other words, AHEC Scholars presents a unique opportunity for a student to fulfill their degree requirements with an emphasis on rural and underserved health.

Eligibility Criteria

Students must be enrolled in a health profession training program, be in good academic standing, and be willing to commit to two years of program participation prior to graduation. Interested students must complete an AHEC Scholars application, indicating their interest in and experience with rural and underserved populations and communities.

Eligible health profession programs include, but are not limited to: medical, dental, pharmacy, nurse practitioner, nursing, physician assistant, social work, physical therapy, and public/population health.

Program Learning Objectives

The Oregon AHEC Scholars program is guided by a list of Student Learning Objectives:

  1. Work with individuals of other professions to enhance a climate of mutual respect and shared values.
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of team-based professional skills, roles and responsibilities in order to ensure an environment for safe, efficient and equitable care.
  3. Describe the roles, responsibilities and contributions of various health professions to patient-centered care.
  4. Communicate with team members confidently, clearly and with respect to ensure a common understanding of information and care decisions.
  5. Use the knowledge of one’s own role and those of other professions to appropriately assess and address the social and behavioral health care needs of rural and medically underserved populations.
  6. Reduce common misunderstanding about the behavioral health needs of rural and underserved populations.
  7. Improve understanding of unique cultures and values of rural and underserved communities.
  8. Communicate effectively with patients, families and the public, as appropriate, across a broad range of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.
  9. Increase understanding of health care delivery that is responsive to the evolving needs of the health care system.
  10. Augment knowledge of health care practice redesign and Triple Aim goals.

Program Outline

AHEC Scholars is a 2-year program and students must commit to be in the program for 2 years. Entry point into the program is dependent upon each student's program with the exit point at graduation/completion of your degree.

The program is delivered in two required components each year:

  • 40 hours of didactic training related to the six core topic areas in healthcare.
  • 40 hours of community-based experiential training at rural and underserved clinics in a team based environment across the state of Oregon aimed at developing an understanding of the variety of social cultural factors influencing overall health and ability to access care.

Participation in electives, conferences and lectures, case presentations, the AHEC Scholars Journal Club, and OHSU's Community-Based Project course at Campus for Rural Health sites are all ways in which students may meet the didactic requirements each year. For a more comprehensive list of resources, please look at the Didactic Opportunities guide under Scholars Resources.

AHEC Scholars Overview


  • Participate in a multi-disciplinary team of health care professionals committed to transforming healthcare in Oregon
  • Exposure to inter-professional team based training experience
  • Scholarships and poster presentation opportunities at the Annual Oregon Rural Health Conference
  • For students awarded funding with a service obligation to the state of Oregon; the ability to rotate at a "designated service site"
  • Certificate of Completion
  • Career planning support through the Office of Rural Health including loan forgiveness and loan repayment options, access to rural job postings through www.3RNet.org & connection to HR departments in rural communities etc.
  • Faculty mentorship from those with an interest in rural and/or underserved care

This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under U77HP03052 Model State Area Health Education Centers. This information of content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.

July 2019 Interview with PA graduate, Frank Penã

Sayali Kulkarni, FNP, Tuan Tran, Dental, and Frank Pena, PA Programs
Sayali Kulkarni, FNP, Tuan Tran, Dental, and Frank Penã, PA Programs

We met with recent Physician Assistant graduate Frank Penã to hear of his experiences in Klamath and South Coast Campus for Rural Health (CRH) sites. A nontraditional student, Frank was accepted the first time he applied to Physician Assistant Programs at OHSU and Pacific University. Frank had worked as a medical assistant and received a BS in Biology-Health Sciences from Oregon Tech. 

Frank’s wife and child live in Klamath Falls, where he was born and raised. “I enrolled in the rural track program at OHSU and asked to have as many rural clinical experiences as possible. Physician Assistant Clerkship staff were able to help me secure 8 of 11 rotations in southern Oregon, 5 of which were in rural communities. I told my advisor, Gina Jones, that I was determined to come out of Physician Assistant School with a healthy marriage and happy family. I drove nearly 30,000 miles in 26 months so that I could fully participate in family events yet devote myself to deep study during the school week in Portland. Some of the windshield time to return to Portland to meet program requirements was challenging.” 

Frank stayed with his family in Klamath Falls but noted that the South Coast shared housing enhanced what he described as an “interpersonal and interprofessional experience”. A dental student prepared street food common in Vietnam and shared his culture with students over dinner in the house. He shared board prep questions with a FNP student. “It was nice to know that other students were “in it” with me on my rural rotations. The Campus for Rural Health is a successful collaboration among OHSU’s Schools and Programs, and rural Oregon communities. The local housing and staff made the experience so good for me”.

On the South Coast, Frank worked on the Devereux Center project, and used his engagement skills to learn about how social determinants of health affect access to care for the homeless community. “The data that we gathered from the homeless population will be used by the Devereux Center to inform the medical community and to apply for grant funding to further their mission”. 

In Klamath, Frank and other interprofessional students were paired with nursing students in the Interprofessional Care Access Network (I-CAN) program where they visited with patients in their home environment. Frank learned subtle life lessons about personal boundaries and was able to make connections between the social determinants of health of patients and key local resources. In addition to his involvement in I-CAN, Frank work with CRH students on the Sky Lakes Self-Management project which included a needs assessment designed to identify unmet needs of the chronically ill, develop a rural-specific program to fill the remaining gap needs and initiate a pilot program based on what they learn from their research. Regular meetings occur 1-2 times every 4 week cohort between students and project partners. Frank reported that the meetings helped identify the value of the project for the students and ensure clear communication with the partner.

Frank reported that he spent about an average of three hours a week on the Rural IPE Community Project course and project activities. He did not feel that the time negatively affected his clinical responsibilities rather, that it enhanced his understanding about the rural context of care. Frank and CRH OHSU School of Medicine graduate Dr. Katie Murphy presented on the Sky Lakes Wellness Center project at the Oregon Rural Practice Research Network (ORPRN) convocation this spring. Frank appreciated the opportunity to build on his curriculum vitae. The extra time he devoted to the presentation was well worth it even though it meant working on the presentation long after his rotation in Klamath Falls had ended. CRH students developed the poster in Klamath and kept Katie and Frank engaged. The poster won first place, according to Frank, “It was a high value experience both personally and professionally. 

Frank will soon join Sky Lakes Medical Center Surgery Department where he will hone his skills under the supervision of three board certified surgeons lead by Dr. Stanton Smith. This is the first time a Physician Assistant has served in this capacity. Frank is a recipient of the Primary Care Loan Forgiveness (PCLF) program. The PCLF was designed to meet workforce needs in rural Oregon for Primary Care Physician, Physician Assistant, Doctor of Nursing Practice, General Surgery and Psychiatry. PCLF participants are eligible for forgivable loans of up to $35,000 per year, for tuition and fees only, in exchange for a service obligation to an approved rural Oregon practice site.