Upstate News

January 10, 1999
Doretta Royer 315 464-4833

SUNY Health Science Center to play key role in federal effort to bring physicians, other medical experts to New York’s underserved areas

The State University of New York (SUNY) Health Science Center at Syracuse is a co-recipient of a major federal grant aimed at alleviating the shortage of physicians and other health professionals in many areas of New York state.

The lead institution in the effort will be the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo, which received a three-year, $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a statewide Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program.

AHEC sites will be developed by the University of Buffalo, the SUNY Health Science Center and the State University at Albany’s School of Public Health to support activities in the western, central and eastern regions of New York state, respectively. The New York program is part of a nationwide effort launched in 1972, based on0 the 1970 Carnegie Commission’s “Report on Higher Education and the Nation’s Health.” AHEC programs now operate in 41 states.

The federal government has identified physician and other medical personnel shortages in parts of Oswego, St. Lawrence, Essex, Delaware and Sullivan counties and the Adirondack region.

“We expect to have all the programming in place for our Area Health Education Center by 2001,” said Thomas Wolff, M.D., professor of family medicine at the SUNY Health Science Center and associate director of the statewide AHEC program. He added that “our aim is to establish partnerships between Health Science Centers and underserved communities for the education of health profession students and eventually the improvement of health care.”

The primary mission of the AHEC program, according to Wolff, is to bring health care practitioners–whether they be physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dentists or other health professionals–to underserved rural and urban areas through the establishment or enhancement of clinical teaching and practice sites, throughout the region. These sites may be small community hospitals, physician offices or other health care settings.

The SUNY Health Science Center’s College of Medicine already offers medical students opportunities to participate in rural health care through its Rural Medical Education Program (RMED). The program–one of only three in the country–partners third-year medical students with physicians in rural communities for nine months.

“This federal program actually builds on the RMED program, broadening it to include opportunities in rural medicine for all health care practitioners, not just physicians,” Wolff said.

During subsequent funding cycles, the statewide program will establish AHEC regional centers at the SUNY Health Science Centers at Stony Brook and Brooklyn. Each regional center will be responsible for setting up two community-based AHEC sites in underserved areas by the end of the 12-year federal funding cycle. New York state is required to assist in the funding of the AHEC program and eventually to assume full financial responsibility.

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