February 28, 2018West Central Alabama AHEC hosted an orientation session at the College of Community Health Sciences Feb. 24 for its Health Profession Academy, a program that works to recruit rural students into health care education programs in the state and help them return to their home communities, or similar communities, to practice. About two dozen students attended from the West Central Alabama AHEC (Area Health Education Center) service area, which includes 13 counties, many in the Alabama Black Belt, and that suffer from high poverty, poor health outcomes and a severe shortage of health care providers. As part of the Health Profession Academy, students will be able to participate in interactive workshops, receive individual health careers counseling and preparation for the ACT, a standardized test used for college admissions in the US, and earn allied health certification in phlebotomy and patient care tech. Alabama is a largely rural state with tremendous health care needs. There are limited numbers of health care providers in rural areas, and 62 of the state’s 67 counties are designated as primary care health professional shortage areas. Regina Knox, executive director of the West Central Alabama AHEC said few students from counties with poor health rankings go into health professions. “That’s why we’re here. We want to increase those numbers. We want to help you succeed,” she said. According to statistics from the West Central Alabama AHEC, in the three counties in its service area with the poorest health rankings – Wilcox, Greene and Perry – only one student each from Wilcox and Green counties are enrolled in medical school and no students from the three counties are enrolled in nurse practitioner and physician assistant programs. In health outcomes, Wilcox County ranks 67th out of Alabama’s 67 counties, while Greene County ranks 66th and Perry County ranks 65th. “We want to help students from rural and underserved communities meet the needs of their communities,” Knox said.