December 1, 2011
Mary Beth Warren, executive director of the KUMC Area Health Education Centers (AHECs), has been named a Woman of Distinction by the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce for her dedication to strengthening health care in rural Kansas.
In her 17 years with the University of Kansas Medical Center, Warren, RN, MS, has been building partnerships with communities, health care providers, and educational institutions to improve health care in Kansas' small towns and rural communities. Her vision to improve health in rural Kansas is in no small part influenced by her first-hand knowledge of the challenges and joys of health care in rural Kansas.
Warren grew up in Cherryvale, Kan., a town of about 2,500 in southeast Kansas, set on becoming a lawyer. Warren wasn't sure on how to get from high school to law school when she saw a poster to become a nurse. Warren, a first-generation prospective college student, decided that she could do that too.
"I've never regretted it," says Warren, who now makes sure other high school students know about the variety of rewarding careers in health care and how to get started in them.
Warren provided clinical care in hospitals before migrating to management positions, where she handled issues like education, quality improvement, risk management, and human resources. In this capacity, she interfaced with the KUMC AHECs and when the east Kansas office director position opened, Warren was the right candidate for the job.
Today, Warren serves as executive director of the Area Health Education Centers. She manages a statewide system of 4 regional offices where her team of 16 see to it that the present and future health care needs of Kansans are being met: ensuring Kansans can see specialty health care providers in or near their hometown, educating health care professionals across the state on the latest trends, showcasing the value and rewards of careers in health care to young Kansas kids, and encouraging health research in rural communities.
"Mary Beth has dedicated her life to improving the health of Kansans," said Dave Cook, PhD, associate vice chancellor for outreach at the University of Kansas Medical Center. "She has a long-track record of success and is well-deserving of this honor."
One example of Warren's leadership was expanding the AHECs to function as rural research liaisons—connecting rural doctors, hospitals and communities with KUMC researchers while providing technical support, such as data collection and participant recruitment. Today, rural communities in more than 40 Kansas counties are working with KUMC to understand the prevalence of epilepsy and seizure disorders, pioneer smoking cessation methods, and study therapies and interventions that will improve the health of rural Kansans in a variety of situations—including rural breast cancer survivors and children with mood disorders.
Dozens of school districts and community colleges have benefitted from Warren's vision for a stronger health care workforce. Today, the AHECs provide scores of opportunities like career days, internships, and student placement opportunities for Kansas kids, teens and college students to discover the exciting challenges of a rewarding career in health care. Warren's team also support health career high school teachers with externships for their continuing professional education and Mini-Medical School, a series of lesson plans that simulate medical school in the high school classroom.
"She's really put us on the map," said Sherry Pryor, AHEC senior coordinator.
When Warren is not at work, she's still working for Kansans with her involvement in a number of national and state organizations, including the National Area Health Education Centers Organization, Sigma Theta Tau, Phi Kappa Phi and Kansas Association of Continuing Nursing Education Providers. She also serves on the governing board of the Southeast Kansas Area Agency on Aging and the advisory board of Pittsburg State University Department of Nursing.
As part of her award, Warren will be featured in the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce's Women of Distinction 2012 calendar. The chamber began these awards in 2007 to spotlight 12 area women who lead by example in donating their time and talents for the betterment of the community.