AHEC Scholars Program Expands Learning Opportunities For Health Professions Students
From a young age, Hoda Veshagh PharmD ’25 knew that she was destined for a career in healthcare.
It was on a trip with her parents to their homeland of Iran, however, that she discovered her specific interest in pharmacy. During one of those summer trips, Veshagh had the opportunity to shadow a close family friend who ran her own pharmacy. It was the type of small, independent pharmacy that is seldom found these days in the U.S.
“I was able to see her performing all of the tasks that she does. That really intrigued me,” said Veshagh, who was born in Vancouver, British Columbia and raised in Portland. “She was explaining everything and all of the details. That is where I got my initial inspiration. I was like, ‘I want to do that one day. I want to be her.’”
Service opportunities with Medical Teams International and OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital helped Veshagh narrow her choice of profession. After graduating from Portland State with a degree in general science in 2022, Veshagh enrolled in the Pacific University School of Pharmacy.
As a pharmacy student, Veshagh also was eligible to join the two-year AHEC Scholars program, a statewide initiative to better prepare health professions students for future practice in rural and underserved communities.
Affiliated with the state’s Area Health Education Centers, the program provides health professions students learning and care experiences at team-based rural and/or urban clinical practice sites, as well as training focused on core areas such as behavioral health education, cultural competency, and social determinants of health.
Participants then have the opportunity to apply for Oregon’s Primary Care Loan Forgiveness Program, provided they commit to one year of clinical service in a rural community in the state.
Since 2018, 524 scholars have entered the program, and nearly 40% have been Pacific University students studying pharmacy, physician assistant studies, and occupational therapy. This year, nearly half of the AHEC Scholar cohort are Pacific students like Veshagh.
As part of her studies, Veshagh and other scholars, along with other Pacific students, partnered for an outreach week, providing blood pressure screenings and providing health education at Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center clinics in Hillsboro and Beaverton. The focus of the week was on hypertension and self-care for cough and cold. Veshagh created a handout as part of the education effort, providing tips in both English and Spanish.
“The goal of that week was education,” Veshagh said. “My cough and cold handout included advice on self-care treatment options at home. I also provided over-the-counter recommendations for specific cough and cold symptoms.”
Seminars highlighting current topics in rural healthcare have also opened Veshagh’s eyes, allowing her to research how pharmacy can do a better job of being effective with underserved communities.
“I really appreciate that the AHEC program has allowed us to do our own didactic work,” Veshagh said. “We can do our own research on different things and hear different perspectives from pharmacists who actually work in underserved areas. I like learning about new opportunities and potentially going down that path. I think it is helpful in that way.”