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The road ahead is paved with challenge for the Des Moines University AHEC (DMU AHEC) Program. In a somewhat surprising move by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) the DMU AHEC Program found itself without a continuation of its primary grant funding.

High school students get hands-on experience through YESMED, a Central Iowa AHEC annual program.

The DMU AHEC program was initially established in 2007 when it received a three-year federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). DMU AHEC subsequently submitted a second grant application as the current grant period was ending, expecting to receive another boost of federal dollars to keep its program thriving. However, DMU was later notified that while their application scored well and was competitively approved, their program would be unfunded.

Representatives from HRSA have stated that the Federal AHEC Appropriation “ran out” however, DMU has since learned that there are new AHEC programs receiving funds while other programs like DMU AHEC have been unfunded.  It’s a situation that has DMU AHEC officials stunned.

 “The Federally-supported AHEC initiative has been in existence for almost four decades.  This is the first time federally-compliant and approved AHEC programs have gone unfunded,” said Wendy Gray, Program Office Director for DMU AHEC. “Iowa is one of four states greatly affected by this unanticipated shift from an equitable distribution to numeric competition model and it seems this is a permanent shift we will need to contend with from this point forward.”

Having the DMU AHEC program is essential in helping to recruit and retain top talent in the primary and preventative health care workforce in Iowa, with specific emphasis in rural and underserved communities. They host a number of programs all across the northern portion of Iowa that help to offer resources and education for students and health care professionals alike. Just this past summer, IHA featured a video highlighting the YES MED summer camp, where high school students from the Central Iowa AHEC region spent a week getting a hands-on health care and science experience.

For now, DMU AHEC is receiving support from Des Moines University and other generous contributors to secure enough funding to last until March 2011. The opportunity remains for federal grants to be applied for again and the program is working to gain the support of their congressional delegation as well as the Iowa General Assembly.  The value of a concerted effort to recruit and retain ample health care providers throughout Iowa is undeniable and the DMU AHEC Program intends to do everything within its power to remain intact.

The health care industry in Iowa knows that in order to cultivate a healthy workforce, you have to work to inspire the youth of the state. That’s exactly what Des Moines University and the Central Iowa Area Health Education Center are attempting to do with their annual YES MED summer camp.

Staff members say that the effects of the program can be seen immediately in the students and they’re sure that, for some, it could prove to be the catalyst for a future career.

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Approximately 25% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but only 10% of physicians practice in rural areas.  This maldistribution of physicians over the last several decades has occurred for many reasons:

  • Medical education in the United States has become specialized, centralized and urban.
  • Many practitioners emerge from medical programs with a staggering amount of debt and go on to practice in urban areas, where they often receive a higher salary.

More doctors is not the answer

Simply increasing medical school slots is not the answer. According to the Robert Graham Center: Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, “Sizeable growth of the physician workforce in the last two decades has not resolved the maldistribution of physicians.”  On March 24, 2009 — House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman said that a congressional overhaul of the health care system must not only provide for universal coverage but also for more primary care doctors and nurses to ensure that an insurance card actually gives the holder access to treatment.

Physicians need to be rooted in the rural community

In a joint 2008 statement, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the National Rural Health Association stated that medical education anchored in rural places, nourished and funded through significant federal, state and local community support, and meaningfully connected to both regional academic institutions and local physicians in practice has great potential to address both present and future needs for physicians who provide care to rural populations.

DMU launches program to combat rural physician shortage with incentives

Concerned about the growing physician shortage in rural Iowa, Des Moines University (DMU) has embarked upon a “grow your own” program.  DMU and its Area Health Education Center have created the Rural Iowa Provider Education (RIPE) Program.


The RIPE Program provides specialized education, training and tools to better prepare students for service in rural, underserved areas of Iowa.  Because one of the known barriers for students choosing a rural medical practice is the tuition debt load from medical school, DMU has made an on-going commitment to annually provide the equivalent of six full tuition scholarships to students enrolled in the Rural Medicine Educational Pathway. In return, graduates agree to maintain a fulltime primary care medical practice in an approved Iowa community for a period of four years.

Are plans like DMU’s RIPE the answer to the shortage of physicians in rural areas? Are there other concerns or issues at hand? How would you bring more physicians into rural areas?

You can find more information about the RIPE Program on DMU’s website.

Recognizing how health care and legal issues have become so intertwined, two Iowa universities have partnered to offer a joint program that will prepare grad students for careers in health law.

The two programs from Drake and Des Moines University (DMU) offer students the opportunity to earn joint Master of Health Care Administration or Master of Public Health and Juris Doctor/law degrees. Students are allowed to transfer up to 18 credits between the institutions.

“The health-care industry is extremely regulated, and health-care providers, payers and attorneys who specialize in health law need to be able to collaborate on compliance solutions. The joint-degree programs provide students with these collaborative learning opportunities.” – Stacey Tovino, director of the Health Law and Policy Center at Drake University Law School

It was also mentioned in the Drake press release that this partnership may serve as a springboard for other potential collaborations between the two universities.

For more information on DMU’s joint degree programs with Drake Law School, visit the Drake Law School website or the DMU website.