The statewide mission of the Tennessee AHEC Program is to improve the supply and distribution of healthcare professionals with an emphasis on primary care – in urban and rural areas.

» Who We Are

The Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) programs were developed in the 1970s by Congress in response to the Carnegie Report on Higher Education and the Nation’s Health to recruit, train and retrain a health professions workforce committed to serving underserved populations. Today, there are 56 AHEC programs with more than 235 regional centers that operate in almost every state and the District of Columbia. Today, approximately 120 medical schools and 600 nursing and allied health schools collaborate with AHECs to improve health for underserved populations.

AHECs can be described as a pipeline for healthcare training. We connect with youth at any early age to educate them on health career opportunities. Next, we connect health professionals to communities, and then we connect communities to better health; thereby increasing the quality and availability of healthcare throughout the nation.

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» History & Mission

The Tennessee Model Area Health Education Center (TN AHEC) Program was established at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee in 1984 through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The mission of the TN AHEC is closely aligned with the mission of Meharry and of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA’s) Bureau of Health Workforce, which is to increase diversity and distribution of healthcare professionals, enhance healthcare equity, and improve healthcare delivery to rural and underserved areas and populations.

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» Vision

TN AHEC’s vision is to help lead the transformation of healthcare education and service delivery in Tennessee.

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» Goals

The overarching goal of TN AHEC is to increase the number of students in health professions who will pursue careers in primary care and who are prepared for and practice in rural and underserved areas and with diverse populations. We are committed to improving health and health care of Tennesseans and decreasing health disparities throughout the state.

The goals and objectives of TN are carried out in partnership with its three regional centers: West TN AHEC, Central TN AHEC, and East TN AHEC. These partnerships promote an inter-professional approach to health professions education and workforce development in the regions.

The Statewide TN AHEC Program provides the foundation for a coordinated statewide response to the six major challenges expected to affect the health care system over the next decade:

  1. Decreasing supply of primary care providers;
  2. Increasing demand for primary care physicians;
  3. Changing population demographics (increased number of elderly persons);
  4. Diversity/cultural competency in the workforce;
  5. Transformation of the health care delivery system, and
  6. Greater integration of advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants.

The following principles guide the goals, objectives and activities of the TN AHEC.

  1. Provide links between academic health centers, health professionals, community-based organizations, and consumers for the benefit of underserved and rural populations;
  2. Identify local health needs and responses through community input and participation;
  3. Promote health and prevent disease through culturally appropriate interventions;
  4. Increase the number of underrepresented, low income and racial/ethnic minorities entering into health professions programs; and
  5. Implement inter-disciplinary, continuing education and training for health professionals.
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    Key Staff

    Paul D. Juarez, PhD
    Program Director of TN AHEC, Professor and Vice-Chair of Research
    Meharry Medical College
    Department of Family and Community Medicine
    1005 Dr. D. B. Todd Jr. Boulevard
    Old Hospital Building, 3rd Floor
    Nashville, TN 37208
    Telephone: 615.327.6992
    Fax: 615.327.5634
    Email: pjuarez@mmc.edu


    Dr. Juarez is Professor and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Family and Community Medicine and director of the Health Disparities Research Center of Excellence (HDRCOE) at Meharry Medical College. Dr. Juarez also is program director for the Tennessee Area Health Education Center, Director of Primary Care Training Research for National Center for Medical Education, Development, & Research, and program director for the college-wide patient centered medical home. Dr. Juarez and his team have developed the public health exposome as a systems science approach for assessing the impact of exposures in the natural, built, social and policy environments on personal health and population level disparities across the life course. Dr. Juarez also is the PI of an EPA STAR grant award: Using a Total Environment Framework (Built, Natural, Social Environments) to Assess Life-long Health Effects of Chemical Exposures); PI of a HIV Preexposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) Implementation Science award from NIAID; and is the PI of a sub-award for the NIEHS Pre-natal and Early Childhood Pathways to Health award (C Karr, PI).

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    Lesia D. Walker, MPH, BSMT
    Program Coordinator, TN AHEC
    Meharry Medical College
    Department of Family and Community Medicine
    Old Hospital Building, 3rd Floor
    Nashville, TN 37208
    Telephone: 615.327.5784
    Fax: 615.327.5634
    Email: ldwalker@mmc.edu


    Ms. Walker earned her Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, with an emphasis in Health Planning and Administration, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Technology. As the Program Coordinator for the TN AHEC, Ms. Walker provides support to the Program Director and subcontractors in carrying out grant functions and activities. She oversees the day-to-day administrative functions in support of the overall grant activities including maintaining the website, coordinating student clinical placements, providing technical assistance to subcontractors, preparing performance/progress reports, collecting, analyzing and reporting data, preparing program evaluation tools, building relationships with other academic institutions, community and faith-based organizations, and serving on internal and external committees. Ms. Walker also serves as a liaison between the TN AHEC Program and other health related programs and groups in Metro Nashville Public Schools and other counties throughout the state of Tennessee.Ms. Walker is an accomplished healthcare professional who has dedicated her professional career to working to “protect,” “promote,” and “improve” the health of Tennesseans, especially for racial and ethnic minority populations and the medically underserved. She is passionate about ensuring the accessibility and availability of quality health services for the poor, uninsured/underinsured, and medically underserved.

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