Quality Care

When you stop at the doctor’s office or check into a hospital, your expectations are justifiably high.


Fix me. Heal me. Find the right treatment. Get me back on the road to recovery.


You expect your health care provider to be both talented and well-trained, right?


The problem is that the demand for health care workers will be high but the number of potential candidates may be low. (We have touched on this issue before.)


And that’s where the national AHEC program comes in.


AHEC stands for Area Health Education Centers. There are some 300 AHEC chapters around the country and they have developed an amazing track record of filling the pipeline to health care jobs. Local AHECs work through strategic partnerships with academic programs, communities, and professional organizations to identify potential talent.


So, meet Mitch Fittro, the education workforce manager for Central Colorado AHEC—one of seven AHEC chapters in the state.


In his time at Central Colorado AHEC, Fittro has overseen the training of eight cohorts of students to date. Each session lasts three weeks, including 12 days of contact, and 72 hours of total programming. They are pre-apprenticeship programs designed to orient potential candidates to the health care field.


What tool does Fittro turn to at the very beginning of each cohort? Yes, it’s the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System. He introduces students to the muscular systems of the arm, head, and brain.


“My students love it,” says Fittro. “They always say, ‘I took biology or I took anatomy in high school and I didn’t really enjoy it because I was reading from the book.’ They really enjoy the hands-on aspect and seeing how literally everything fits together. They are always really interested.”


More than a few students have said that fashioning muscles in their hands with clay also brings out their artistic side, says Fittro. He ensures those students that a health care career does not mean leaving art behind. There are prosthetics to design, he points out, and art therapy programs, too.


In fact, one of Fittro’s main missions with AHEC is to “broaden the horizons,” as he puts it, of the candidates who come his way. There is to more to health cares than being a doctor or a nurse, after all, and many paths into the broad health care world.


Which brings us to Anastasia Tafoya. As a high school student in Metro Denver, Tafoya became pregnant and needed to give herself shots to thin her blood (based on the good quality care she was receiving, of course).



“At first, I was a little scared,” said Tafoya. “I had my boyfriend do them for me, and it got to the point where he wasn’t able to anymore, because of work, so I started doing them myself.”


Ironically, Tafoya’s mother had faced the same situation three years earlier. Her mother was pregnant with twins. Tafoya had to help her mother with her shots, too.


The task increased Tafoya’s interest in health care. In addition, Tafoya observed a certified nurse assistant who worked at the high school (a high school for teen mothers) she attended in Denver.


“I got what a medical assistant did, but I didn’t know what an LPN or an RN did,” she says, referring to licensed practical nurses and registered nurses. “After I graduated, I was really trying to find out, ‘Where do I start?’”


Visiting a county workforce center, Tafoya spotted an apprenticeship program with Centura Health and then was steered to AHEC—and straight into a cohort of potential candidates being run by Mitch Fittro in the fall of 2018.


In other words, the process worked perfectly. Under their partnership with AHEC, workforce centers around Metro Denver help funnel potential candidates into the health care field.


Tafoya and others like her, says Fittro, often develop an interest in health care because “they either had a medical emergency or some sort of experience with health care in the past, whether it’s a broken leg or a family member who has been sick or they were always touched by health care in some form or fashion.”


After her three weeks with Fittro, Tafoya was soon working at a Denver hospital helping monitor patients in the emergency room area and intensive care.


Fully 75 percent of the students who have gone through AHEC, says Fittro, have landed work in the health care field. Once at work, says Fittro, “there are a lot of people involved in these students’ lives that really open the doors and put them on the right path.”


Fittro is keenly aware of the importance of developing a strong health care workforce—and for good, common reasons. “Maybe one of my students will be my primary caregiver some day in the future,” he says. “You never know. You never know.”


We appreciate Central Colorado-AHEC and their important work. And we also appreciate their introduction of students to the field with hands-on learning!

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