Advanced Health Education Center Ltd (AHEC)., charted in 1988, was created to fulfill continuing education in imaging technology that was unavailable by conventional academic routes. It was a pioneering effort to provide health care facilities lacking trained professionals’ methods to sponsor staff training.
Founders Marilyn Sackett, M Ed, RT(R), FASRT, and Brenda Arnett, RT(R), started the company in Houston, Texas. Sackett acquired the company in 1998 and Jence Cantu, MHA, RT(R), the company’s CEO, became a partner in 2022. Initially the company served rural hospitals with cross training for staff in short-term corporate style training for basic ultrasound procedures. The training style to acquire skills was successful and the company expanded into skills training such as CT, MRI, bone density and mammography initial training. The company grew quickly when it began to offer courses throughout the state and nationwide. This positioned AHEC to become the premier provider of continuing education and skills training in the United States.
“MEDRelief Staffing was developed in 1995 at the request of the facilities using our educational services,” Cantu said. “AHEC had an extensive network of radiology professionals from which to recruit top quality staff to provide on a temporary basis for clients. MEDRelief expanded services beyond diagnostic imaging by acquiring two small independent staffing companies specializing in nursing, respiratory and laboratory professionals. Current staffing services in local per diem shifts, local and travel contracts, and permanent placements are provided for clients. MEDRelief Staffing has been nationally recognized with various awards for customer service.
Following the pioneering spirit of the company, MEDRelief was one of the first staffing companies in the United States to attain Joint Commission accreditation which celebrates the 16th anniversary this year. Cantu is the co-facilitator for the Joint Commission’s Healthcare Staffing Advisory Counsel and has served in this position for the past six years
AHEC is accredited to provide continuing education coursework by approvals for physicians, nurses, radiologic technologists and social workers. The training coursework has traveled the world and had foreign guests training in the corporate office. Educational programs have traveled to Japan, Egypt, multiple countries in the Middle East, Guatemala and Caribbean Island countries.
“We have trained students from over 30 countries in the Houston Training Center. Custom designed curriculum and expert faculty have made consulting an important part of the training platform,” Cantu said.
AHEC can provide customized educational content for clients through an assessment of needs and shared goals to achieve with training, consulting and expertise. The client can access training in regularly scheduled programming, private tutorials, onsite training, contract training or through interactive Zoom training.
The company has multiple advantages over the competition. The company’s leadership is knowledgeable in areas of imaging that enable the correct response to the client’s pain points.
“We put the customer’s needs first,” Cantu explained. “We have a long history of partnerships with some of the nation’s leading medical providers and academic leaders. Being led by former radiology directors and managers, we offer a different perspective because we understand the pressures for facility management and front-line staff. Therefore, we offer a variety of training options and platforms that are customizable for each client. We don’t believe that one size fits all when it comes to skills training in areas such as ultrasound and mammography.”
“The faculty network is comprehensive and is always increasing. The coursework is cutting edge. Our faculty are content experts, working not only in an academic capacity, but as consultants or contractors for government agencies such as NASA and NIH, or in law enforcement,” she added.
The recent pandemic brought challenges to all industries. Being an industry pioneer, AHEC’s transformation to digital education had begun three years prior, but their efforts were accelerated for the addition of more coursework via webinar and staff who were trained in Internet-delivery and Zoom platforms. The expansion included continuing education, on-demand home studies, structured education, CQR prescribed education, contracted courses and initial trainings such as mammography and bone density.
“The biggest challenge for AHEC was to remain flexible and to think outside the box in how to assist our clients,” Cantu said. “Education slowed as facilities became overwhelmed and it traded down the list of priorities. This was matched with a huge increase in the request for health care staffing. In-house staff were redirected to jobs for recruitment, credentialing and communications for supplemental staffing jobs. Senior leadership rolled up their sleeves and everybody joined the effort to find and supply qualified health care workers.”
The pivot during the pandemic was not by chance as the mission and goal is to provide solutions for clients.
“The AHEC/MEDRelief Staffing core competencies are based in assisting our clients, whether facilities or individuals, in providing better patient care and high-quality health care,” Cantu explained. “We understand the pain points, and the desire for improving patient care results. We also ‘speak regulatory’ and can answer many questions pertaining to regulatory requirements. Working hard to resolve problems through both the educational offerings and our staffing company, results are usually successful and immediate.”
Just as it has done throughout it’s nearly 35-year history, AHEC is agile and adapts to meet the needs of clients.
“Continuously evaluating our products means they have the most current information and standards of care. Providing educational products to the professional in a COVID environment means continually making changes in delivery, scheduling and clinical components. Increasing communication to our clients by newsletters, emails, blogs and podcasts has provided vital information on certificate renewal, regulatory requirements and compliance,” Cantu said. “Clients using staffing services can earn educational tuition credit to use for staff through the rewards program. Clients can earn free educational tuition credits with every hour filled during an hourly shift at MEDRelief Staffing.”
She added that restarting ultrasound training post-COVID, using live models for lab instruction has allowed the reality “hands-on” scanning program to resume. “This is the fastest and most efficient method of acquiring an ultrasound skill,” Cantu said.
The future is bright for the company as well as for the facilities and individuals that it serves.
“We have updated our ultrasound scan lab and there is new coursework on the horizon. Some programs have already been placed on the schedule and are available such as the new nuclear cardiology program that meets the CME accreditation requirements for physicians,” Cantu said. “A leadership academy with specialized courses for those aspiring to management positions is available as of September 2022.”
AHEC also continues to add to its webinar content “with industry legends and new faculty.”
Programs about diversity and inclusion, as well as artificial intelligence advancements have been incorporated into courses. New programs for technologists’ CQR and structured education, expanding the ultrasound training, and accreditation or licensure CE requirements such as those for human trafficking and nuclear medicine are in the works for next year.
“Our mission statement: Our vision is to provide high-quality education to health care professionals. Our education promotes the learning or improvement of skills which impact the delivery of patient care. We believe that professional development can best be achieved through training for the future. The future is now,” Cantu said.
“Our central focus is our customers’ needs, we offer variable solutions, customized for their facility. Be it education, skills training, consulting or staffing, we are here to help,” she added. •