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Headshot of Ferren PannellThe Southside Virginia Area Health Education Center (AHEC) is an advocate for change through innovation and collaboration.

I started the journey as the Director of the Southside Virginia AHEC in January 2019. Since that time, the Southside Virginia AHEC staff has worked diligently to educate our community about AHEC’s vital mission to enhance access to quality health care through strategic partnerships. Our specific AHEC program has been guided by several objectives, including but not limited to:  (1) Expanding the health care workforce, (2) Facilitating continued education for health care professionals, (3) Providing professional development/mentoring services, and (4) Collaborating with community organizations to tackle public health issues.

Currently, the nation is facing a tremendous shortage in our primary care workforce (See Images Below). For example, more than 11 of the 15 counties included in the Southside Virginia AHEC Region, are designated Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). Access to Primary Care is essential to a healthy community, as the main role of primary health care is to provide routine and comprehensive care for diverse health conditions. The primary care workforce promotes health through disease prevention, timely assessment and diagnosis of common acute and chronic symptoms, and refers patients for appropriate, additional  health care services.

As a practicing registered nurse and previous primary care nurse manager for the Veterans Administration, I witnessed the ongoing need for quality, dependable primary care providers. Southside Virginia AHEC supports the innovation of  health care delivered though inter-professional teams to include but not limited to: nurses, physicians, medical assistants, pharmacists, social workers, caregivers, and more. We proudly use our platform to continue to evolve health care and serve the community by listening and responding to the needs of the community we serve.  Through strategic partnerships with academic programs, community members, health care groups, and other professional organizations, we at the Southside Virginia AHEC aim to improve the distribution of quality health professionals to support a healthier community.

I ask students, parents, health care professionals, educators, business leaders and community members to join me and the Southside Virginia AHEC family on the journey to better health care resources for all in our community.