Skip to main content

Ilisagvik College Helps Bring Health Care to Northern Alaska

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Ilisagvik College is working closely with the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) of Alaska to bring better health care services to the northern region of the state. Northwest AHEC—which includes Barrow, Nome, and Kotzebue—is the newest of the five AHECs in Alaska. Through recruitment, rotation, and retention, this emerging program has big plans for the future.

AHEC was developed by Congress in 1971 to help better serve communities in underserved areas. Programs exist in nearly every state. Many of the programs have been successful, and it is from this history that NW AHEC in Alaska finds guidance. The Alaska Center for Rural Health secured funding for AHEC in September of 2005, and Ilisagvik College became involved in early 2010.

It has been a year since Ilisagvik was granted a stipend to explore the possibility of creating an AHEC in Barrow. Since then, Ilisagvik College’s Allied Health Program Coordinator Gloria Lomuscio has been busy organizing events to give the new program the exposure it needs. This month AHEC sponsored “Mondays in March,” a series of community outreach workshops focused on family violence. The workshops have largely attracted professionals, but Lomuscio hopes more “local and homegrown” members of the community will participate in the future.

Previously NW AHEC has been involved in a number of successful activities in the community. NW AHEC Health Careers Coordinator Liz Tsigonis feels outreach to high school students is the most valuable feature of the program.

“Students just don’t know these jobs exist,” she says.

One of the central goals of AHEC is to recruit local students and connect them to the careers the community needs. In January, high school students from across the North Slope were invited to a Career Expo in Barrow to learn about Ilisagvik College and the variety of professional opportunities available across the slope. AHEC played an important role in the Career Expo and sponsored a unit entirely on health professions. After recruiting students from events like these, AHEC will help them get the education they need and find them clinical rotations in northern Alaska.

The response to AHEC programs has been largely positive, especially on the professional level. The North Slope Borough Health Department, Arctic Slope Native Association, the North Slope Borough School District, the Norton Sound Health Consortium, the Alaska Technical Center, the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, the SAVAAT Center, and the University of Alaska – Fairbanks Northwest Campus are just a few of the organizations supporting NW AHEC. Lomuscio attributes this assistance to the idea that AHEC “makes their jobs easier,” by connecting organizations and helping to fill any gaps in service. To better serve individuals, AHEC tracks each student they speak with and contacts them biannually to check in on their progress and offer professional assistance. In the future, Lomuscio and Tsigonis hope this practice will be a valuable indicator of the success of the program.

NW AHEC is buzzing with activities this summer and into the fall 2011 semester. The organization will help sponsor two Allied Health summer camps this year at the college: one for high school students 16-18 years old, and another for middle school students 13-15 years old. The high school camp will be two weeks long and will feature classes in First Aid, CPR, and Emergency Trauma Technician Training as well as health careers exploration. Participants will also have the opportunity to become “Junior Public Health Educators” in an area of their interest, such as depression or heart disease. The middle school camp will last a week and will focus on developing healthy lifestyles and a sense of identity. Both camps are free to students throughout the North Slope, and this year applications from Nome and Kotzebue will be accepted as well. Sessions will take place in June on the Ilisagvik College campus.

Also in the planning stages is an “In-A-Box” Curriculum in which health career related activity stations, such as brains, bones, and guts, as well as dress up clothes are loaned to elementary classrooms to encourage role-playing and an interest in health professions from a young age. Lomuscio encourages interested college age students to review the Ilisagvik College fall 2011 schedule for new classes when it becomes available. Allied Health courses are entirely grant funded for all enrolled students working toward a certificate or degree.

Tsigonis urges “anybody and everybody” to get involved in AHEC opportunities.

To learn more about AHEC and the Allied Health program at Ilisagvik College, call Wendy Battle at 907-852-1803, or toll free at 800-478-7337, ext. 1803. For more information on summer camps or other programs, contact Ilisagvik recruiter Janelle Everett at 907-852-1799 or toll free at 800-478-7337, ext. 1799.

This story was provided by Amber Greenway Neher, a recruitment specialist for Ilisagvik College.