March 30, 2005
CONTACT: Julie Toland, julie.toland@ttuhsc.edu

ABILENE – Promoting health careers for West Texas students will be the focus of a new Area Health Education Center which opened in Abilene today under the sponsorship of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and the West Central Texas Council of Governments.

The Big Country Area Health Education Center will conduct outreach to schools across a 28-county region to encourage students to pursue health care careers including medicine, nursing, pharmacy and x-ray technology.

“It is imperative that we generate a higher level of interest among West Texas kids in pursuing health care careers,” said Patti Patterson, M.D., vice president for Rural and Community Health at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. “As many West Texas doctors and other providers approach retirement age, we are not seeing enough students in the health professions pipeline who are willing to live in West Texas.

“The person most likely to be a doctor or nurse in a small West Texas town is a person who grew up there,” she added. “That is what AHEC is all about.”

Jim Compton, executive director of the West Central Texas Council of Governments, said the program will be beneficial to the West Texas economy. “The strength of the future West Texas economy is linked to having a strong health care system,” he said. “Without sufficient health care workers, we will be disadvantaged.”

U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, who attended the center’s opening today, added, “The residents of many counties in this region already have little or no health care access, mostly because of our vast geography. The new AHEC program will focus on ensuring we have an adequate health care work force in West Texas.”

The Big Country center also will address other health care professional training, said Ronnie Laurance, center director. “While introducing school kids to health careers is our first priority, we also will work on providing rural clinical training for current health profession students, assisting existing health professionals with continuing education and enhancing the overall health awareness of the region,” he said.

The program will have an annual budget of $200,000 funded by the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. The Health Sciences Center contracted with the West Central Texas Council of Governments to provide the services.

Counties served by the program will include Archer, Baylor, Brown, Callahan, Coleman, Concho, Eastland, Fisher, Foard, Hardeman, Haskell, Jones, Kimble, Knox, Llano, Mason, Menard, McCullough, Nolan, Runnels, San Saba, Shackelford, Stephens, Taylor, Throckmorton, Wichita, Wilbarger and Young.

The Big Country Area Health Education Center is located at 1025 N.E. 10th St. in Abilene.


Contacts: Pam Danner, AHEC program director, (806) 743-1338
Ronnie Laurance, Big Country AHEC director, (325) 672-0432