NACHC has worked closely with A.T. Still University (ATSU)to pioneer innovative programs to address the persistent need for healers and scholars in Community Health Centers, particularly for and in communities with limited access to health care. And last month, the very first class of Physician Assistant students graduated from the ATSU Central Coast Physician Assistant Program! During the ceremony, NACHC’s Advisor on Workforce and Service Integration, Dr. Don Weaver, shared some words of wisdom with the 88 graduates of the program:
“Each of us was blessed with mentors who have assisted us in our journey. Please pay it forward – there are ‘healers in waiting’ that need your guidance.”Dr. Don Weaver
In addition to Dr. Weaver, several other NACHC leaders participated in the graduation, including CMO Dr. Ron Yee and Dr. Gary Wiltz, CEO of Teche Action Clinic and past Chair of both the NACHC and ATSU Board of Directors. They proudly cheered for students like Valeria Felix. Valeria shared what this milestone means for her:
“As a first-generation Latina college graduate, I always knew I wanted to serve the community like my family. Since I’m very young I’ve been eager to follow in my Abuelo’s footsteps. I can do that now– with medicine.”Valeria Felix
Growing Our Own: 1 Medical, 2 Dental, and 2 PA Schools to Train Health Center Clinicians
NACHC’s partnership with ATSU has resulted in the opening of a medical school, two dental schools, and this new PA program. These institutions in Arizona, Missouri, and California are dedicated to producing healthcare professionals who are not only highly competent but also deeply committed to serving underserved populations. This year, ATSU trained 740 students through 1,500 Community Health Center rotations.
These future healers benefit from hands-on health center training and mentoring. This kind of work instills the priceless values of compassion, cultural humility, and a deep sense of responsibility toward future patients. It also provides scholars with the skills and knowledge necessary for community-oriented primary care, which is the model found in health centers.
Unique Training, Found Only Through ATSU and Their Health Center Partners
The CCPA Program was born from staffing needs expressed by health center leaders. It is a 24-month residential master’s degree program based in Santa Maria, California. Students spend their first year at the Santa Maria campus and their second year embedded in health center clinical learning hubs, grouped in cohorts of three to five students in health centers across the country. Scholars spend 35 weeks of supervised clinical practice experiences in various medical disciplines at one of the partnered Federally Qualified Health Centers located across the U.S.
ATSU Graduates: Living Legacies of Service
Through collaborative efforts, ATSU is not only addressing the shortage of health care providers but also empowering future health care heroes like Valeria Felix to carry forward the legacy of service and impact. The future is brighter because of students (and graduates!) like these. These students are already part of the health center family, as Dr. Weaver said during the ceremony:
“Many will be working in health centers across the country, and all of you are indelibly imprinted with the health center community-oriented primary care model – health care driven by the community.”
Where are the Future Hometown Scholars in Your Community?
As a board member, clinician, or administrator from a health center, PCA, or HCCN, we encourage you to endorse individuals from your community to have the heart to heal and a desire to become a physician, dentist, or physician assistant through the Hometown Scholars Program (contact: Nelida Acosta, ATSU Hometown Scholars Coordinator). Your endorsement increases their chance of acceptance to these competitive programs, helping the individual to realize their dream of becoming a health professional.