The Area Health Education Center for Western Washington at Whatcom Community College works with the national AHEC movement to support healthcare delivery systems and access to care through activities that strengthen the healthcare workforce in rural and urban-underserved communities.

Primary Projects

AHECWW is actively implementing a range of projects to strengthen the quality, diversity, and distribution of healthcare workforce in rural and urban-underserved areas of western Washington. Explore our primary projects through the links below to learn more:

Rural and Underserved Opportunities Program (RUOP)

AHECWW works with the University of Washington School of Medicine to coordinate a four-week, elective immersion experience for medical students. The program is called The Rural and Underserved Opportunities Program (RUOP) and it places students between their first and second years of medical school in community medicine in rural or urban underserved communities throughout the WWAMI region (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho).

Preceptors can apply to participate as a preceptor for a RUOP student in summer 2019. (A printable .pdf application form is available.)

Students work in clinics and hospitals with preceptors, experiencing their first extended clinical involvement. RUOP provides students with an early exposure to the challenges and rewards of working with rural and underserved communities and develops in students a positive attitude toward rural and urban underserved community medicine. Students also benefit from learning how community health care systems function.

Teaching Activities

  • Along with expanding history-taking and physical exam skills, students participate in a full range of clinical activities. They experience what it is to be a physician.
  • Practicing doctors act as role models and provide clinical teaching that can shape students’ professional choices.
  • Many RUOP students plan to combine their clinical work with a community medicine experience.

Students also complete a web-based community medicine course with UWSOM mentors.

  • Learning about the social determinants of health.
  • Assessing the community for health strengths and challenges.

The University of Washington School of Medicine Magazine featured the inspiring story of a similar program (called TRUST) in this video “Spurred to Succeed,” in spring 2018.

AHECWW recruits physician preceptors working in rural and urban-underserved communities throughout western Washington during the winter. Medical students are matched with participating sites during the spring, and summer rotations begin in late June. Contact AHECWW for more information on how to become a preceptor:

Additional information about the preceptor role and responsibilities is detailed on the University of Washington School of Medicine website for the RUOP program.

AHEC Scholars

AHEC Scholars is a nationwide HRSA/AHEC branded certificate program to prepare and promote a diverse, skilled primary care workforce in rural and underserved communities. The program consists of didactic and clinical/experiential/community learning focused on six core topic areas:

  • Interprofessional education
  • Behavioral health integration
  • Social determinants of health
  • Cultural humility*
  • Practice transformation
  • Current and emerging health issues

Visit Student Resources for more information about AHEC Scholars.

*AHECWW prefers the term cultural humility, which acknowledges that mastery of a finite body of knowledge may not be appropriate. Instead, cultural humility invites us to practice the lifelong commitment to self-evaluation, redressing power imbalances, and developing mutually beneficial advocacy partnerships with communities. (Definition adapted from Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998)

Scrubs Camp

As part of our work to support recruitment and expose high-school aged youth to health careers, AHECWW hosts Scrubs Camps and facilitates the expansion of Scrubs Camps across the state.

What is Scrubs Camp?

Scrubs Camp is a one-day workshop for high school students to explore health careers. Scrubs Camps are designed to increase awareness, interest, and understanding of health careers available in Washington through instruction and interactive activities. Students hear presentations from health care professionals and/or educators, and participate in hands-on activities, while also learning about the education and skills required to become a health professional.

What will I do at Scrubs Camp?

Scrubs Camp is often held in the healthcare labs at the local community college. Some camps have also been held at community buildings. Faculty, staff and community members give presentations on healthcare programs offered on that campus. Student are immersed in experiential learning about careers such as Nursing, Medical Assisting, Physical Therapy, Emergency Medical Technicians, Massage Therapy, Dental Hygiene and other fields represented at the local campus. Presenters engage students in hands-on activities like drawing blood, listening to a heartbeat, experiencing electrical stimulation, conducting spirometry assessments, practicing massage techniques and other job-related tasks. A healthy lunch is provided for students along with snacks to keep them energized throughout the day. An advising session is included to inform students on academic pathways for healthcare careers and each student is given resources to take home.

Scrubs Camp is a great way for students interested in a health career to find out all the possibilities and prepare for their next steps in education. Participants get concrete guidance on the training programs required for different types of healthcare careers, including information on financial options.

Scrubs Camps for 2019 are scheduled as follows:

  • Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA – July 22, 2019 (camp full)
  • Bellingham Technical College, Bellingham, WA – June 26, 2019
  • Peninsula College, Port Angeles, WA – March 21, 2019
  • Montesano Internal Medicine, Montesano WA – June 1, 2019

Contact Deborah Elliott, AHECWW Health Professions Coordinator, at or call (360) 383-3171, for more information on Scrubs Camp 2019.

Scrubs Camp is ready to expand in western Washington

AHECWW looks forward to exploring ways that Scrubs Camp can be adapted to your region. This program has the potential to showcase your healthcare education programs, and also offers an opportunity to partner with industry to highlight local health career options. Let’s collaborate to help address healthcare workforce shortages by building academic pathways!

Health Professions Affinity Community

AHECWW has developed a Health Professions Affinity Community (HPAC) program to encourage high school students to explore healthcare careers. HPAC is a facilitated student activity that meets at participating high schools. Students in the HPAC learn to identify community health issues under the guidance of an AmeriCorps College Access Coordinator. Activities include presentations by healthcare professionals, field trips, and tutoring. HPAC focuses on students from diverse populations that are under-represented in health professions. AHECWW launched the first HPAC in Washington State as a pilot project at three Whatcom County high schools in 2018.

Visit Student Resources for more information about HPAC.

Continuing Education for Professionals

Continuing Education and CME

AHECWW supports didactic and experiential training activities focused on the HRSA Core Topic Areas by providing two Continuing Medical Education sessions annually. For the 2018-2019 year, AHECWW hosted these sessions at the Northwest Rural Health Conference.

Find additional trainings and other resources for healthcare professionals.

Mental Health First Aid Training

AHECWW offers Mental Health First Aid trainings for professionals and community members throughout western Washington. Upcoming trainings are being scheduled for summer 2019.

Visit Community Resources for more information.

Northwest Rural Health Conference
On March 25-27, 2019, Seattle hosted the annual Northwest Rural Health Conference, welcoming more than 400 health professionals and presenters.

The conference theme "Rural Communities: Healthy Places to Live, Work, and Play" highlighted rural health policy issues, identified changes in the delivery of rural care, and showcased ways that technology and data are improving health in rural communities. Registered attendees can access the 2019 presentation slides through the Whova mobile app

Presentations from the 2019 Northwest Rural Health Conference can be accessed here.

2019 Conference Highlights:

  • Intensive Learning Workshops– Monday
  • Invited Plenary Speakers
  • Education and networking opportunities
  • Interactive breakout sessions by experts – Tuesday and Wednesday
  • Poster Session: highlight programs and share successful ideas with colleagues
  • Monday Evening Reception in the Exhibit Hall
  • Lively and Informative Vendor Exhibits
  • WRHA & RHCAW Annual Membership Meetings
  • WRHA Rural Health Awards Ceremony
  • NWRHC Active! Group Walk/Run Event
  • CME and CE credits available

The Northwest Rural Health Conference addresses varied facets of providing health care in rural settings including critical access hospitals, rural emergency medical services, rural health clinics, home health and other health organizations.

The 2020 Northwest Rural Health Conference will be held in the Spokane area in mid-March, 2020.

Registered Nurses in Primary Care

The University of Washington School of Nursing, Kaiser Permanente Washington, and AHECWW have partnered on an innovative Nurse Education, Practice, Quality and Retention (NEPQR) Program, "Registered Nurses in Primary Care," to meet ambulatory care education needs. This is a $2.8M grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

The purpose of the four-year training program is to recruit and train nursing students and current registered nurses (RNs) to practice at the full scope of their license in community-based ambulatory care teams. This work will emphasize chronic disease prevention and management in health professional shortage areas (HPSA), medical underserved (MU) and rural ambulatory care settings.

AHECWW sits on the partnership advisory committee for this project, and will work in partnership to develop immersive rural clinical placements for participating students, with the aim of increasing recruitment from underserved communities and improving the diversity of the nursing workforce.  


  • Washington State has an RN shortfall that is expected to grow over the next 12 years
  • The RN shortfall is greatest in rural WA, where the number of RNs is fewer (per 100,000 populations)
  • Chronic disease rates are increasing along with a growing and aging population, amplifying the need for RNs in ambulatory care
Career and Academic Pathways

AHECWW works with partners across the state to make it easier for healthcare students to map their academic pathway to healthcare and STEM certifications and degree programs. There are a vast number of outreach programs throughout the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho (WWAMI) region striving to bring individuals who are underrepresented in the health care fields toward college level training in the health sciences.

The project includes two main components:

1. Pipeline mapping:

Compiling data about all the career pathway programs in the WWAMI Region, making it accessible in a searchable database and interactive map to students, advisors, and educators via a website and app.
  • Link participants and volunteers to programs
  • Encourage programs to work with neighbors and create opportunities for cooperation
  • Identify both areas of overlap and where there are gaps in programming
  • Improve data collection and measurement of the impact of pipeline programs
  • Research methods to track student outcomes

Visit the Northwest Health Career Path website to see for yourself!

2. Pipeline Summits:

Convening annual information-sharing events to link programs with each other and with participants.

Partners in development include:

  • Students
  • UW School of Medicine Service Learning
  • UW Family Medicine Interest Group (FMIG)
  • UW Center for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (CEDI)
  • Eastern Washington Area Health Education Center (EWAHEC)
  • Seattle Data For Good

Visit Student Resources for more information.

Washington Resources Group

As part of the statewide effort to recruit and retain health professionals working in rural and urban medically underserved areas, AHECWW participates in the Washington Resources Group (WRG) to plan and provide presentations to student groups and training sites related to workforce recruitment and retention in underserved areas. 

Visit the Washington State Department of Health WRG page to learn more about the WRG. 

Transforming Healthcare Delivery
AHECWW is involved in several projects to support the transformation of healthcare delivery, which seeks to improve patient outcomes and experience while lowering healthcare costs.

Cultural Humility

AHECWW offers Cultural Humility trainings for health professionals, students, and community partners. AHECWW offered the following recent Cultural Humility trainings with contracted presenter Dr. Carlos Mejia Rodriguez:

“Cultural Humility: Effective Cross-Cultural Interactions in Education and Healthcare Settings” was conducted at the Whatcom Community College Campus, February 21, 2019.

Learning objectives for the 2/21/19 training:

  • Address the need for knowledge about different cultural perspectives
  • Develop skills for culturally-appropriate interactions
  • Define culture and explore its definitions
  • Gain tools for inter-cultural communication in medical settings

    "Cultural Competency vs. Cultural Humility: Improving Cross-Cultural Communication" was conducted at the Northwest Rural Health Conference, March 26, 2019, examining communication between providers and connectors to services for immigrant families and the resulting dynamics that can arise when providers and individuals have different cultural backgrounds. This session invited participants to participate in cultural humility, an ongoing process of self-evaluation of one's own culture while striving to respectfully understand others. 

    "Cultural Humility Linguistics Experiential Workshop" was conducted at the Northwest Rural Health Conference as well. This cultural humility training and workshop enabled social services, health, educators, and other professionals working with immigrant families to become aware of the influence of their own culture and assumptions that limit clear cross-cultural communication, positive interactions, and end in poor outcomes in any setting.

    Contracted presenter Dr. Carlos Mejia Rodriguez was born in Honduras, graduated as a Family Physician at Universidad San Carlos de Guatemala, and practiced in Honduras for 17 years in the private and public sectors. His focus as a professional has been children and families, disadvantaged groups such as indigenous, miners, farmworkers, rural, and low-income neighborhoods. Dr. Carlos moved to the USA in 2002 invited as an advisory to the board of the Shelbyville Free Clinic. He earned his PhD in Public Health Community Health Education and Promotion and is working on cultural humility research, presentations, and trainings. His research interests lie in tobacco prevention, adverse childhood experiences, cultural humility, and Community Health Workers for Latinos.

    Behavioral Health Workforce Expansion

    AHECWW has also been in collaboration with the UW AIMS Center and the Allied Health Center of Excellence to promote a process via the Washington State Mental Health Summit  to develop educational, licensure, and certification programs for medical paraprofessionals in behavioral health at the bachelors and associates degree levels. Work group members have been collaborating on pathway development and AHECWW participated in the Inspiring Innovations Summits, held in Spokane and Seattle, spring 2019, to explore actionable steps toward workforce expansion. 

    About the Host College

    Whatcom Community College

    Whatcom Community College is a regionally and nationally accredited college with an accomplished faculty and staff who serve nearly 11,000 students annually. On its 72-acre campus in Bellingham, Wash., and through online courses, Whatcom offers transfer degrees, professional-technical training programs, as well as basic education, job skills, and Community & Continuing Education classes. According to the Aspen Institute (2016), WCC is rated among the top nine community and technical colleges in the state and recognized as one of the leading community colleges in the nation. Established in 1967, Whatcom has been accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities since 1976.

    AHECWW is hosted at Whatcom Community College with funding from the Washington State Department of Health, University of Washington WWAMI AHEC Program, and the Whatcom Community College Foundation.


    Area Health Education Center Logo WA State Department of Health Logo WCC Foundation Logo

    This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number U77HP03022, for the WWAMI Area Health Centers, in the amount of $515,000 for the 2018-2019 fiscal year (with a 1:1 total match of $515,000 from non-federally funded governmental sources). This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA or the U.S. Government.