The National Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Program was established in the U.S. in 1972 to improve the supply, distribution, retention and quality of primary care and other health practitioners in rural and medically underserved areas. The AHEC program is part of a national effort to improve access to health services through changes in the education and training of health professionals

AHECs work within its region to make health care education (including residency and student rotations) locally available, to increase the likelihood that health care workers will remain in an area where they train. AHECs also work  to support practicing professionals with continuing education programs and other support resources and to attract youth (particularly those from minority and medically underserved populations) to health care professions. AHECs partner with community organizations and academic institutions to fulfill its mission.

Building upon an initial foundation of eleven programs, today the national AHEC network has expanded to include 48 programs and more than 200 centers operating in almost every state and the District of Columbia.

The South Carolina AHEC system was created in 1972 as one of the original eleven programs funded by Congress.   Begun through a consortium of four teaching hospitals, two medical schools, and four regional centers, by 1987, the SC AHEC network included a Program Office, six regional teaching hospitals, seven health education centers, and the state’s two medical schools, and its original focus on physician shortages had expanded to include programs and services addressing the state’s nursing, allied health, and minority recruitment needs.

In 2000, in an effort to become more efficient and cost effective, a strategic decision was made to reorganize the SC AHEC Centers, downsizing from seven to the four we have today.  This resulted in little change for Pee Dee and Lowcountry AHEC.  However, the former Catawba-Wateree and Midlands AHECs were merged to create Mid-Carolina AHEC; and the fourth Center, Upstate AHEC, was established by combining three Centers:  Spartanburg AHEC, Greenville AHEC, and Upper Savannah AHEC.

To find out more about the National AHEC, visit the National AHEC Organization website.