Realizing a need to address the shortage of primary care physicians and the inadequate distribution of health professionals, the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education recommended the establishment of Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) in 1970. These centers were to be linked with university health science centers in an effort to improve access to health care in rural and inner city areas. As a result, the national AHEC program was developed by Congress in 1971 to recruit, train and retain a health professions workforce committed to underserved populations. The AHEC program helps bring the resources of academic medicine to address local community health needs. The strength of the AHEC Network is its ability to creatively adapt national initiatives to help address local and regional healthcare issues.

Today, 56 AHEC programs with more than 235 centers operate in almost every state and the District of Columbia. Approximately 120 medical schools and 600 nursing and allied health schools work collaboratively with AHECs to improve health for underserved and under-represented populations.