I grew up in Casa Grande, a rural farming community in Arizona. My family and I have experienced first-hand the benefits and challenges of rural living, which led to my interest in health infrastructure development. I attended the University of Arizona and earned a Bachelor’s of Nutrition and a Master's in Mexican American Studies Latino Health and went on to work at the Arizona Primary Care Office for several years before relocating to Denver last May to become the Director of Workforce Programs at the Colorado Rural Health Center (CRHC).
The CRHC serves as the State Office of Rural Health for Colorado and offers programs and services to ensure that rural communities have access to adequate health care. I oversee the new Workforce Division which provides several key services: Colorado Provider Recruitment (CPR) and Colorado STRIDES – Sustainable Towns: Rural Innovation, Development, Expansion, and Success. Through generous contributions from The Colorado Health Foundation, The Colorado Trust, and Caring for Colorado, we have been able to create this division and bring in additional staff to make significant impacts in our rural health infrastructure. The CPR program assists rural and urban underserved communities with the recruitment and retention of health care providers. We are the Rural Recruitment and Retention Network (3RNet) designee for Colorado and employ two recruitment coordinators (Sara Leahy and Brittany Ashlock) and a recruitment specialist (Jamie Groy). They are all National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Ambassadors, which is great because we are constantly providing information about the NHSC Loan Repayment and Scholarship Programs to students, health professionals, and service site administrators, which overlap with the job opportunities for which we are recruiting.
I learned about the NHSC in my previous role in the Arizona Primary Care Office working as the liaison for the NHSC. Around that time, in 2006, a colleague told me about the NHSC Ambassador program – we realized the program offered a great way to reach out to health professional instructors, clinicians, and leaders in our communities to collectively increase awareness of NHSC opportunities and to make the NHSC programs part of our structural network. We wanted to have several Ambassadors spread throughout the state in different professional disciplines, and they would direct any interested persons to me to further discuss NHSC opportunities. The Ambassador program also would allow me access to these individuals as colleagues and open doors for presentations to their health professional students. The program was highly successful – we went from a handful of Ambassadors to 55 active Ambassadors, who ultimately became familiar faces and friends.
In March 2010, the team of CRHC NHSC Ambassadors partnered with the Ambassadors at the Colorado Community Health Network and the Area Health Education Center to hold a job networking event connecting health professional students and residents to rural health clinics, critical access hospitals, urban mission-based clinics, and federally qualified health centers to learn more about each other, make connections, and support the workforce in the safety net structure. We had 10 service sites attend the event and about 80 health professional students. We are planning a similar event in fall 2011 with our fellow Ambassadors.
The workforce programs at CRHC have greatly impacted rural Colorado. The staff/Ambassadors at CPR recruited and placed 31 health professionals (Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants, Dentists, Dental Hygienists) in the safety net structure in 2010 and STRIDES worked with five communities conducting needs assessments and linking resources and collaborative efforts among rural Colorado.
The most rewarding part about being an Ambassador is being able to provide clinicians, health professional students, residents, site administrators, and communities with information and support that will directly impact access to care. The other reward is getting to know the network of Ambassadors locally and nationally. These individuals are compassionate, highly motivated professionals who go the extra mile for a common cause. It feels satisfying to know that the Colorado Rural Health Center team of NHSC Ambassadors is part of this larger community.