Meet Monica T. Afalava, MPH, Director, American Samoa AHEC
Presented by the NAO membership committee
Why are you a member of NAO?
I am a member of NAO because I believe in its mission, and I want to continue to play my part in health work force recruitment and development. The Hawaii Pacific Basin AHEC Program Office supports all centers.
How long have you been a member?
American Samoa AHEC has been a member of NAO since its establishment under the Hawaii Pacific Basin AHEC Program Office in 2007. This year makes 13 years!
What membership benefits do you value and why?
Networking, communicating, and collaborating with other centers to find resources, best practices and support.
What is your organization’s vision/mission?
The mission of American Samoa AHEC is to improve the health of the underserved through education and health workforce development. Our vision is to grow our own healers.
How is your center achieving your mission?
American Samoa AHEC thrives on partnerships; we are grateful for all the support received locally, through our Program Office and the NAO.
HOSA-Future Health Professionals, American Samoa Charter: In 2014, the American Samoa AHEC Community Advisory Board established HOSA locally, with the first student chapter at the American Samoa Community College. Through a partnership with the American Samoa Department of Education, high school chapters began to form, to what is now a nine-chapter Associated Charter (one post-secondary school, eight secondary schools [six public, two private]), with three more chapters signing up in the new school year. The greatest advantage of HOSA for AHEC is the direct link into high schools, allowing for access to conduct outreaches, allow recruiting, and promoting programs. Hawaii Pacific Basin AHEC supports ASCC HOSA and sponsors all application fees and assists with travel funds.
- Summer Health Academy: a two-week intensive program designed to expose students to various careers in the health field, while also educating them about how to lead healthy lifestyles. The academy introduces services that government agencies and departments provide to protect and enhance our health, while also providing training to gain leadership and clinical skills.
- American Samoa Community College – Nursing Program: the nursing program offered at the local community college where American Samoa AHEC is hosted, provides CNA, LPN, and RN programs. Graduates of these programs have guaranteed jobs at the local hospital and all local community health centers.
- AHEC Scholars Program: Students are able to sign up throughout the year, understanding the requirements that must be achieved within that year. Highlights include the completion of Youth Mental Health First Aid Certifications, OSHA 10-hr Healthcare Certifications, First CPR/AED Certifications and various credits on AHEC-U taught by Hawaii Pacific Basin AHEC Associate Director Erica Davis.
- Sexual Assault Nurse/Forensic Examiner Training: through a partnership with the University of Arizona Western Region Western Region Public Health Training Center, American Samoa AHEC has established the first two cohorts of Sexual Assault Nurse and Forensic Examiners in American Samoa.
- Youth Mental Health First Aid Training: Youth Mental Health First Aid is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is in crisis.
- First Aid CPR AED Training. We provide this training at no cost to our AHEC Scholars, and at the cost of the card to the community through Associate Director, Erica Davis.
- Rural Rotations: The Rural Healthcare Training Initiative is hosted by the Hawaii Pacific Basin AHEC Program Office. it allows second-year medical students to live in one of the US Affiliated Pacific Island communities for a month to gain cultural awareness and understanding, as well as shadow medical providers and learn the many challenges and rewards of rural health care. American Samoa AHEC receives these students and through a partnership with the Veterans Affairs, and they are placed at either the VA Clinic and LBJ Tropical Medical Center (our only hospital).
- Project ECHO: The Hawai`i State Rural Health Association serves as the lead agency for ECHO Hawai`i and is dedicated to replicating this unique telehealth model across our island state. The goal of ECHO Hawai`i is to develop a comprehensive multi-disciplinary group of clinical and community experts (hub site) committed to continuously mentoring primary care providers (spoke sites) in specialty areas. ECHO Hawaii is hosted weekly, at the American Samoa AHEC Office; all members of the community are welcome.
What else would you like to share with NAO membership about yourself or your organization?
I couldn’t ask for a better program office, and I wouldn’t switch my center for the world! It is an honor to work with my colleagues in the Pacific Basin. Though we are only able to physically meet once a year, for 2-3 days, I am always inspired by the ways they are able to overcome the challenges we face in the Pacific. We are all isolated from the nation and each other. For instance, to get to the mainland U.S., I would have to take a 5.5-hour flight to Hawaii, then another 5.5-hr flight to California. We have 1 cargo flight and 2 passenger flights (operated by Hawaiian Airlines) a week. Resources are scarce, and we are mandated by law to purchase supplies locally before they are outsourced. We continue to find ways to adapt to our culturally diverse populations, using our cultural values to produce culturally competent health care providers. We wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the guidance and support of (director) Dr. Kelley Withy, Ms. Erica Davis (associate director) and the entire staff at our program office. Faafetai mo lou alofa! (Thank you for your love!)
What is one of your favorite stories/memories from your AHEC experience?
Through AHEC, I recently became a certified instructor for Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA). I have co-instructed two classes with Ms. Erica Davis. For one of the activities, we present what is known as “MAMA.” In the Kauai Longitudinal Study, it was found that Kauai youth contributed their resiliency to two things: a Meaningful Adult, and a Meaningful Activity (MAMA).
While conducting this activity in the YMHFA Course I co-instructed, participants took turns to share their “MAMA.” One of the participants stood up and shared that I was her Meaningful Adult, and that HOSA was her Meaningful Activity. She cried as she spoke, and I was in complete shock – for this student, I was the only good thing going for at that particular time in her life. I had only been advising this student for 4 months by then, and I had been oblivious to the impact of the work we were doing at American Samoa AHEC until that moment. I love what I do! And I love the people I get to do it with.