BUFFALO, N.Y. -- New York State ranks sixth in the nation in the
number of people living in areas with fewer than 150 residents per
Unfortunately, only about 1 in 3,000 of those persons is a
physician, and the ratio is worse in the state's inner cities.
To help alleviate that shortage of health professionals in the
state's underserved communities, the School of Medicine and
Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo is teaming with
the State University of New York Health Science Center at Syracuse
and other New York professional schools.
The effort is being aided by a three-year, $3 million grant from
the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that funds the
first cycle of a 12-year program with a potential for $22 million
in federal funding.
With the UB medical school as lead institution, the grant will
fund start up of an Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program in
New York State.
The New York program is part of a nationwide effort launched in
1972, based on the 1970 Carnegie Commission's "Report on Higher
Education and the Nation's Health." AHEC programs now operate in 41
states. An earlier effort in New York State did not succeed due to
lack of institutional support.
The goal of the initiative is to bring more health-care
providers to underserved areas by establishing clinical teaching
and practice sites in these outlying communities or urban settings.
Each AHEC site will be managed by a locally appointed director and
advisory board, and will be linked with a medical school.
Through these sites, students from medicine, pharmacy, nursing,
allied health, dentistry and social work will get first-hand
experience living with and caring for patients in underserved areas
of the state. The centers also will provide a training ground for
medical and dental residents, continuing-education courses for
health professionals already serving these communities and
assessment of the region's health-care needs.
"We urbanize most of our medical students during their
training," said Thomas C. Rosenthal, M.D., professor and chair of
the UB Department of Family Medicine, who will oversee the
initiative. "The high-profile urban medical setting is what young
physicians are comfortable with, so that is where they tend to
"They cluster in prosperous areas of cities and suburbs also for
personal reasons. Most want to raise families where they will have
the greatest opportunities, so it is difficult to retain providers
in underserved rural communities in particular. It requires a
person who understands and values rural America. The only way they
will see themselves in those communities," he continued, "is to be
in those communities."
During the program's first three years, UB will set up a
statewide administrative office in its Department of Family
Medicine and help establish regional offices at the SUNY Health
Sciences Center at Syracuse and Albany Medical College/State
University at Albany School of Public Health.
During subsequent funding cycles, center staff will help
establish AHEC regional centers at SUNY at Stony Brook Health
Sciences Center and SUNY Health Sciences Center at Brooklyn. Each
regional center will be responsible for setting up two
community-based AHEC sites in underserved areas by the end of the
12-year federal funding cycle. New York State is required to begin
funding the AHEC program in its sixth year and eventually to assume
full financial responsibility.
Diane G. Schwartz, director of special projects for the UB
medical school, will be deputy director of the statewide program
office. During the first year, the UB office will establish a
community-based AHEC site in the 14-county Western New York
Rosenthal said each community-based AHEC will function as an arm
of a SUNY health sciences center, providing teleconferencing links
back to the main campus, a setting for meetings with faculty
members and support services to students and residents living in
the rural communities during their rotations. Site directors and
community clinicians who will act as preceptors will be trained
on-site by UB faculty.
"The overall objective is to attract and keep more health-care
workers in underserved areas, both by linking medical residents and
third-and-fourth-year medical students to these communities and by
helping local practitioners feel more connected to the SUNY medical
schools," Schwartz said.