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KU School of Health Professions wins HRSA grant to establish U-CHaMP, a program to expand the number of health care workers in underserved communities

Program supports students with economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds in pursuing careers in the health professions

At dusk, a railroad crosses over a dusty country road surrounded by open fields
Most of the counties in Kansas qualify as a Health Professional Shortage Area. This program aims to boost the health care workforce in the state, particularly in areas that are underserved.

Today, 90 counties in Kansas (86%) qualify as a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA), a designation created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — highlighting the urgency to find solutions for this growing problem. The University of Kansas Medical Center plays an important role in increasing the number of people qualified for health-related jobs, with KU School of Health Professions educating students in programs ranging from occupational therapy to clinical laboratory science.

Last fall, KU School of Health Professions earned a prestigious grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to assist individuals from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds in pursuing degrees from health professions programs, with the goal of graduates entering the workforce in underserved communities.

The grant was used to establish the Underserved Communities Have a Medical Provider program (U-CHaMP) to improve health care delivery to underserved populations in both rural and urban communities. Studies by the American Heart Association indicate that people living in rural communities are 40% more likely to develop heart disease and have a 30% higher risk of stroke than people who live in urban areas.

“Our rural and urban underserved communities need students from the School of Health Professions to help close the existing health disparity gap in many chronic and disabling conditions,” said Dave Burnett, Ph.D., associate dean for community engagement and workforce initiatives and primary investigator for U-CHaMP. “This federal funding will help us improve recruitment, matriculation, retention and graduation rates of disadvantaged students from underserved communities. We do that by implementing programs designed to address the academic and social needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

“KU School of Health Professions has more than 20 health career programs,” Burnett said. “The U-ChaMP program is dedicated to helping expand the workforce capacity in underserved communities and decreasing the health disparity gap.”

Reaching out to students

Outreach and recruitment specialists from the U-CHaMP program build relationships at career fairs with faculty and students at high schools, community colleges and four-year colleges from every area of Kansas. Throughout the academic year, U-CHaMP also builds connections with students through presentations about health care professions and academic opportunities. Students as young as juniors in high school can apply for an ambassador role to receive advising, counseling, peer mentoring, shadowing opportunities and learning about experiences related to health disparities.

Students in the program can consider bachelor’s degrees in three areas: clinical laboratory science, health information management or respiratory care. Once accepted to KU Medical Center, students can apply to U-CHaMP’s Scholars program, which provides social and academic support as well as financial aid — an annual scholarship of up to $10,000. Students in graduate programs in KU School of Health Professions, which include advanced degrees in occupational and physical therapy, also are eligible for the program.

Program serves economically disadvantaged and educationally underserved students

“To qualify for the programs and scholarships, students must meet one of two criteria,” said Angie Huber, program manager for U-CHaMP. “One is to come from an economically disadvantaged household, where their family earns less than 200% of the federal poverty level, or about $62,400 for a family of four.”

Another way to qualify for the ambassador program is to be considered educationally underserved. “First-generation college students would qualify, as well as students who attend schools with a significant number of students qualifying for federal free or reduced-price lunch programs,” said Huber.

Scholars are asked for a minimal commitment to continue working with the U-CHaMP program while enrolled at KU Medical Center. “They help mentor the ambassadors,” Huber said. “They also attend recruitment events and other types of meetings where they learn about health care disparities and other issues. They give a little back, but there is a very high return — one of our goals is to help students graduate with little or no student debt while inspiring them to work in underserved communities after graduation.”

Since the beginning of program delivery in January, U-CHaMP events have been popular across the state — with 156 events so far, and meetings attended by more than 3,200 people. There are 25 ambassadors enrolled, and at least 40 more applications, a number that grows every month.

Current students in KU School of Health Professions also can apply for the program. The deadline for the U-CHaMP Scholars applications is July 1. Learn more about the U-CHAMP program

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