Celebrating Excellence in Healthcare Education: AHEC Leaders Shine at the 2023 NAO Biennial Conference

by National AHEC Organization (NAO)  |   

In a showcase of dedication and excellence in healthcare education, the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) staff and directors left a lasting impact at the 2023 National AHEC Organization (NAO) Biennial Conference held in Salt Lake City last month. This gathering, a cornerstone of the AHEC community, provided a platform for recognition and celebration of individuals who have gone above and beyond in their commitment to advancing healthcare education and access to underserved communities.

Olivia Bridges
Gloria Burnett, Director of the Alaska Center for Rural Health and Health Workforce at the University of Alaska Anchorage, recognizes Olivia Bridges, Soutwest Alaska AHEC Director, with the Rising Star in Healthcare Education award at the 2023 NAO Biennial Conference held in Salt Lake City, UT in July. (Photo courtesy of National AHEC)

Olivia Bridges: A Rising Star in Healthcare Education

Olivia Bridges, the Southwest Alaska AHEC Director, was bestowed with the prestigious Christina Holmes Emerging AHEC Leader Award. This award is named in honor of Christina Holmes, who dedicated over 25 years of her life to furthering the mission of AHEC. Her remarkable journey is an inspiring testament to dedication, leadership, and resourcefulness.

A public health enthusiast with a background in EMT training and a Bachelor's degree in Public Health, Bridges' journey began with an internship at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. There, she was actively involved in community outreach programs aimed at opioid prevention. Since her relocation to Anchorage, Alaska, Olivia has been instrumental in the success of the Southwest Alaska Area Health Education Center. She first served as an AmeriCorps VISTA Member and later took on the role of Youth Services Program Coordinator. Her unwavering commitment to health career camps and training sessions for youth in the Aleutian Pribilof Islands and Bristol Bay Regions has been transformative.

Bridges dedication, leadership, and resourcefulness have not only left a profound impact on the AHEC program but have also enriched the communities she serves. Her work embodies the values cherished by Christina Holmes, whose legacy will forever endure in the National AHEC Organization.


Vincent Award
Mindy Bateman, Director of the Crossroads Utah AHEC, recognizes Vincent Villella, Northwest Alaska AHEC Director, with the Championing Social Justice through Healthcare Education award at the 2023 NAO Biennial Conference held in Salt Lake City, UT in July. (Photo courtesy of National AHEC)

Vincent P. Villella: Championing Social Justice through Healthcare Education

Vincent P. Villella, the Director of the Northwest AHEC, received the Andy Nichols Award for Social Justice through Healthcare Education. This award pays tribute to Dr. Andrew W. Nichols, a tireless advocate for AHEC programs and a champion for justice and health for all, particularly the disadvantaged. Dr. Nichols was instrumental in the establishment of the Arizona AHECs, the State Office of Rural Health, the Arizona Health Education Training Center program, and the National AHEC Program.

Villella's commitment to healthcare education and social justice is evident in his dedication to achieving equity through high-quality programming that addresses the unique challenges faced by Alaska's remote and Indigenous populations. This extensive programming reaches across numerous communities and villages throughout a vast and remote region of the state, integrating public health issues, career certifications, and culturally informed content.

Villella collaborates extensively with local entities, ensuring access to resources and training opportunities. His work spans a wide range, from LGBTQIA+ awareness training and dual-credit high school courses to innovative camps that blend Indigenous healing knowledge with western medicine approaches. His ultimate goal is to inspire future healthcare professionals while respecting traditional ways of knowing. He is also actively addressing the critical issue of suicide prevention by providing training and certification to individuals and communities across Northwest Alaska.

The Alaska AHECs are academic and community-based partnerships engaged in primary care workforce engagement, training and recruiting, and retaining activities to improve the distribution, diversity, supply and quality of healthcare personnel in Alaska. The Alaska AHEC program office is run out of the University of Alaska Anchorage Center for Rural Health and Health Workforce (ACRH-HW) and contracts with six regional centers to implement educational activities involving health professions and to expose students to primary care delivery in rural and/or underserved settings.