New Center Focuses on Building a Stronger Health Care Workforce for Kentucky

LEXINGTON, KY. (June 21, 2022) — An updated resource for hundreds of students on the University of Kentucky’s campus is set to launch this summer. The Center for Interprofessional and Community Health Education (CICHE) will officially open on July 1, 2022. This new center will represent the merger of two existing resources, the Center for Interprofessional Health Education (CIHE) and the Area Health Education Center (AHEC).

Months ahead of the center’s launch, university leaders picked James Ballard, Ed.D., to lead this new venture. From 1998 to 2016, Ballard served as associate director of the AHEC Network and CIHE associate director at UK. From 2016 to 2019, Ballard served as the executive director of the Indiana AHEC Network and associate professor of Family Medicine at Indiana University. Ballard returned to UK in 2019 to serve as CIHE director.

Ballard is excited to bring two units together that he is not only familiar with but believes greatly in the work they do.

“Both CIHE and AHEC are focused on health workforce development,” he said. “AHEC’s mission is to increase access to care by positively impacting the geographic distribution of the health workforce in rural and urban underserved areas and to increase health workforce diversity to be more reflective of our very diverse patient population throughout the Commonwealth. This is accomplished by supporting experiential clinical rotations and health professions pathways programing in underserved communities. CIHE, on the other hand, focuses on helping health professionals become team ready by the time they complete their training.”

Both serve an important role in the future of health care, especially in today’s world, he says.

“It is clear at this point that many patients are too chronic and too sick to be adequately treated by any individual profession. We must work as a team to make sure that we’re taking care of the person holistically,” said Ballard. “We have traditionally worked on that within the walls of this campus. I think with the consolidation, we will have the opportunity to move much of this training for interprofessional collaboration out into the community, in part, utilizing an AHEC model. Likewise, AHEC will continue to impact access to care by developing a diverse and available workforce in rural and urban underserved areas.”

Ballard says learning how to effectively work in collaboration with other health care professionals is vital for students as it directly impacts the quality and safety of their care provided.

“How can people practice at the top of their license if other professionals on the team don’t know what the top of their license is?” said Ballard. “We want students to learn now, so they will be ready to understand what the top of a license is for nurses for pharmacists, for physicians, and so on. That way there will be trust and that trust, along with good team skills, helps build the potential for collaboration.”

The new center will work with students across four campuses including those from medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, public health, health sciences, agriculture (dietetics and human nutrition), communications and information sciences, social work, and UK HealthCare dietetic interns. Traditionally, Ballard says they have worked with professional students, however, due to emerging evidence that this type of training needs to start sooner, they are gradually starting to work with some undergraduate students. With the integration of AHEC we will have the opportunity to move the understanding of team even further upstream into high school pathways programming.

The overall vision of this new center is to be a community campus collaboration that will affect the health workforce for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

“We want to increase diversity, the geographic distribution, and the collaborative skills of our health workforce,” said Ballard. “We also want to be an incubator for communities and health professionals in different programs to come together to find ways to improve the health of the Commonwealth by impacting its health workforce.”


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