NAU receives grant to support aspiring health profession students

A dental student teaches flossing

A $1.95 million Health Careers Opportunity Program grant will provide academic support for students interested in pursuing allied health profession careers.

The Health Resources and Services Administration, federal agency, awarded the three-year grant to help Northern Arizona University bring skilled health care to diverse communities, said Roger Bounds, associate professor and chair of health sciences, who is a co-principal investigator for the grant.

Bounds and Denise Helm, professor of dental hygiene and principal investigator for the grant, will lead a new initiative known as the Journey for Underrepresented Medical Professionals, or JUMP.

Over the next three years, students from educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds will be among those recruited to participate in JUMP, which will help prepare them for acceptance into NAU’s popular and competitive programs in dental hygiene, physical therapy, physician assistant studies and speech language pathology.

JUMP is composed of three intervention programs: PREP, a summer academic enrichment program; HealthPAth, a post-baccalaureate program for prospective physician assistant students; and a Veteran’s Academic Support program.

Helm explained that through the three programs, students will learn about career options, gain the skills necessary to be successful and the confidence needed to be a health professional.

PREP is a summer intensive program that will prepare 75 students to apply for health professions programs by helping them manage expectations, learn what it takes to be accepted and provide a jump start towards meeting entry requirements. The group will include high school juniors and seniors, students early in their undergraduate program at NAU and community college students from schools in the region such as Northland Pioneer College and Coconino Community College.

HealthPAth will target students who are transitioning from their undergraduate program with NAU and are planning to apply to a physician assistant program or who have unsuccessfully applied in the past. A cohort of seven students will spend a year preparing to apply for the physician assistant program and getting exposure to the first-year process through training with current first-year students at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus.

NAU is the only public university in the state offering the graduate-level physician assistant program. The highly competitive program received nearly 700 applications to fill 50 spots this year.

“The unique part about this is that the physician assistant program has guaranteed two spots for students who meet its requirements and are successful in the HealthPAth program,” Bounds said. “And the program is rigorous enough that if they’re successful in it and they meet the requirements, then they will be well prepared to complete their path to becoming a health professional.”

Students in the PREP and HealthPAth programs also will receive a stipend as an incentive to participate. Both programs are expected to begin in summer 2016.

The third element is the Veteran’s Academic Support Program, which will be open to any NAU student veteran who is interested in a health profession degree program. A program coordinator will be hired to work closely with NAU’s current veteran student support staff and specifically assist student veterans who are applying for the health programs.

JUMP is a collaborative effort with community college partners, Northern Arizona Health Education Center and Flagstaff Unified School District. For information, contact