Ilisagvik takes healthcare careers to North Slope

Aug 15th, 2011 | By | Category: 23-1: Beyond Racism, Tribal College News
By Amber Greenway Neher

HAPPY CAMPERS. Each summer, Ilisagvik College offers free summer camps for youth. Camp topics include emergency trauma training; CPR and first aid training; construction; public safety; law enforcement; science; math; and Iñupiaq land use, values, and resources. 2010 Allied Health Camp students, clockwise from bottom: Gabe Tegoseak, Jaime Stewart, LeAnne Henry, Jasmine Tooyak, Shane Watson, Stephanie Talbert, Jaden Nethercott, Liz Clark, Florence Tagarook, Khayla Vigo, and Crystal Leavitt. Photo by Ilisagvik College staff

Ilisagvik College (Barrow, AK) is working closely with the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) of Alaska to bring better healthcare services to the northern region of the state. Northwest AHEC—which includes Barrow, Nome, and Kotzebue—is the newest of the five AHECs in Alaska. Through recruitment, rotation, and retention, this emerging program has big plans for the future.

AHEC was developed by Congress in 1971 to help better communities in underserved areas. Programs exist in nearly every state. Many of the programs have been successful, and it is from this history that Northwest Alaska Area Health Education Center (NW AHEC) finds guidance. The Alaska Center for Rural Health secured funding for AHEC in September of 2005, and Ilisagvik College became involved in early 2010.

In 2010, Ilisagvik was granted a stipend to explore the possibility of creating an AHEC in Barrow. Since then the college’s Allied Health Program coordinator, Gloria Lomuscio, has been organizing events to give the new program the exposure it needs. In March, AHEC sponsored “Mondays in March,” a series of community outreach workshops focused on family violence. The workshops have largely attracted professionals, but Lomuscio hopes more “local and homegrown” members of the community will participate in the future.

Previously NW AHEC has been involved in a number of successful activities in the community. NW AHEC Health Careers coordinator Liz Tsigonis feels outreach to high school students is the most valuable feature of the program. “Students just don’t know these jobs exist,” she says.

One of AHEC’s central goals is recruiting local students and connecting them with careers the community needs. In January, high school students from across the North Slope were invited to a Career Expo in Barrow to learn about Ilisagvik College and the variety of professional opportunities available across the slope. AHEC played an important role in the Career Expo and sponsored a unit entirely on health professions. After recruiting students from events like these, AHEC will help them get the education they need and find them clinical rotations in northern Alaska.

The North Slope Borough Health Department, Arctic Slope Native Association, the North Slope Borough School District, the Norton Sound Health Consortium, the Alaska Technical Center, the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, the SAVAAT Center, and the University of Alaska – Fairbanks Northwest Campus are just a few of the organizations supporting NW AHEC.

Lomuscio attributes this assistance to the idea that AHEC “makes their jobs easier” by connecting organizations and helping to fill any gaps in service. To better serve individuals, AHEC tracks each student they speak with and contacts them biannually to gauge their progress and offer professional assistance. In the future, Lomuscio and Tsigonis hope this practice will be a valuable indicator of the success of the program.

In the summer and fall 2011 semesters, the organization will help sponsor two Allied Health summer camps at the college: one for 16- to 18-year- old high school students and another for 13- to 15-year-old middle school students. The two-week-long high school camp will feature classes in First Aid, CPR, and Emergency Trauma Technician training as well as health careers exploration. Participants will also have the opportunity to become “Junior Public Health Educators” in an area of their interest, such as depression or heart disease. The week-long middle school camp will focus on developing healthy lifestyles and a sense of identity.

An “In-A-Box” curriculum is in the planning stages. This will include health career-related activity stations, such as brains, bones, and guts, as well as dress-up clothes that are loaned to elementary classrooms to encourage role playing and an interest in health professions from a young age.

Allied Health courses are entirely grant funded for all enrolled students working toward a certificate or degree.

To learn more about AHEC and the Allied Health program at Ilisagvik College, call Wendy Battle at (907) 852-1803, or toll free at (800) 478-7337 ext. 1803.

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