AHEC SEARCH Program Provides Opportunities

Great Bend Kansas

Location: Great Bend, Kansas
Outreach Dept: AHEC
Program: Clinic Rotations


For a decade, the SEARCH (Student/Resident Experiences and Rotations in Community Health) program has provided placed health care students with Kansas’ safety-clinics, enabling not only an important clinical rotation experience for students, but also a valuable resource for community health centers. The program has expanded to include graduate administrative students in addition to health care professions.

“Community health centers are not only a great place for clinical students, but excellent learning environments for students in the fields of public health, health policy and health care administration,” said Jason Wesco, chief operations officer for the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, which this year has had four SEARCH placements.

Two were clinical rotation sites for medical students and the other two were for a PhD student in nursing and a health policy management student. An MBA student also was placed at Health Ministries Clinic in Newton.

In addition to benefiting the students and the clinic’s patients, the SEARCH program also is appreciated by the staff, many of whom serve as adjunct faculty, preceptors or mentors to the students, according to Wesco.

“Students bring enthusiasm and a fresh perspective that our staff very much appreciates,” he said

A total of 23 graduate students -- including medical and dental students and nurse practitioners -- have completed rotations at 13 clinics in Kansas’ SEARCH program this year. They are placed in medically underserved areas, the majority of which are in rural areas such as the Heart of Kansas Clinic in Great Bend and the Flint Hills Community Health Center in Emporia.

The opportunity for administrative placements of MBA and MPH students was made possible this year by funding from the Kansas legislature, according to Mary Beth Warren, statewide director of KUMC’s Area Health Education Centers (AHECs). “It was a great addition,” she said of funding for administrative placements. “They were looking to the health care workforce of the future.”

The SEARCH program, an initiative of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), is coordinated in Kansas by the Kansas Association for Medically Underserved (KAMU) and AHEC. The federal money can be used only for health profession students at the graduate level or above.

“The program introduces students to underserved populations,” Warren said. “Safety-net clinics are a little different than traditional clinic settings; they’re more interdisciplinary in nature.” The AHECs have worked with KAMU for about 10 years by evaluating safety-net clinics for student placements, recruiting students and coordinating their placements.

“Students are often amazed at the need that’s out there,” said Erin Scraper, KAMU workforce development specialist, clinical services. “They’re exposed to a whole different population than they’re used to. It opens their eyes to how safety-net clinics work.”

KAMU was founded in 1989 to provide training, technical assistance and advocacy on behalf of federally funded community health centers in Kansas. Forty-two organizations, ranging from faith-based clinics to county health departments, are now members of KAMU. They include public and private non-profit organizations that deliver primary health care services regardless of an individual’s ability to pay.

The program also helps the clinics with both recruitment and retention, according to Scraper. “We hope they’ll perhaps consider working there,” she said. “It also helps retention of current staff because they must be adjunct faculty to participate and they enjoy the teaching and mentoring role.”

Sometimes the rotations – which vary in length from two to 10 weeks and occur at different times of the year -- are required parts of academic programs and other times they are elective, said Judy Eyerly, interim director of AHEC-Northwest, who oversees the SEARCH grant. “Objectives are agreed on by the academic program, the student and the site.”

Students often receive academic credit in addition to a small stipend and reimbursement for travel expenses. Placements can be a challenge because the rural clinics are far away from medical schools, Eyerly noted.

The participation by administrative students this year was very helpful, according to Eyerly. “It’s a good way for MPH students to get experience with assessment, data collection and grant writing.” She hopes the state-funded program can be extended but realizes the reality of the current budget constraints.

Kelly Lang, a dental student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said she had a “great experience this summer with Dr. Allison Levans” while working at the PrairieStar Health Center in Hutchinson. “It was nice to get to see the type of people and experiences one gets working in a rural area,” she said, adding that a clinical setting was a good motivator and reminder of why she had decided to attend dental school. “Sometimes it’s hard to remember when you’re stuck in a classroom all day learning about biochemistry and cell microbiology.”

For more information on the SEARCH program, contact Eyerly for an application at jeyerly@kumc.edu or call 913-387-9050.

Last modified: Oct 31, 2013