At its inception, the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved (ACU)’s membership network began with a group of clinicians striving to improve the health of America’s underserved populations and to support each other, fellow clinicians caring for those in need. 26 years later, ACU continues to support clinicians, organizations, and the healthcare workforce caring for our nation’s medically underserved communities.
The unfortunate and persistent reality is that under-resourced populations served by ACU’s network of clinicians, advocates, and partners continue to suffer disproportionately from lack of healthcare access and inequities across our healthcare system. Most recently, the impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic cast a devastating but important light on the health disparities that minoritized populations and people of color continue to experience still to this day. During the pandemic, the communities served by ACU’s members and network faced greater losses, sharper mortality rates, and increased challenges across social determinants of health impacting overall stability and well-being. The pandemic also placed unprecedented demands on the healthcare workforce caring for those patients.
“In response to these challenges, ACU has expanded our programs, resources, and staff to better meet the needs of our members, network, and communities,” said Amanda Pears Kelly, ACU Executive Director. “And we recognize that an ever-evolving strategy is necessary to not only meet the changing demands of the pandemic, a strained and exhausted healthcare workforce, and the deep inequities in healthcare—but also to prepare for the challenges still to come and forge ahead toward a brighter and more equitable future.”
A New Strategic Vision
To that end, ACU’s Board of Directors and staff recently undertook a strategic planning process to ensure that we can continue to offer optimal support and strategic interventions in an evolving healthcare system. Through surveys and interviews with our internal stakeholders, membership, and broader network, ACU worked to discern the current needs and future demands facing our community. With these insights, our Board convened to determine ACU’s strategic direction, evaluating and redefining our work to better support our clinicians, network and communities. In 2022, ACU is proud to unveil a new vision and mission statement:
The Board then focused on identifying and defining key strategic priorities to guide the work and direction of ACU for the next several years: Advocacy, Funding, Workforce, Branding, and JEDI. Staff then worked to operationalize these objectives through comprehensive workplans that will give shape to ACU’s ongoing initiatives.
“While ACU’s strategic plan will guide our work and priorities for the next several years, we recognize that the healthcare system and the realities facing underserved communities is ever changing,” said Dr. Doug Olson, President of ACU’s Board of Directors. “We’re committed to continually evolving this plan to ensure that we can offer key programs and resources, cultivate leadership and pathways across the healthcare workforce, and best meet the needs of our members, network, and the under-resourced communities for whom we do this vital work.”
Our Strategic Priorities
The healthcare workforce has been at the heart of ACU’s work since its inception, and it remains central to our work today. To continue meeting the needs of our membership and network at large, ACU will expand our strategic efforts to develop, recruit, and retain a diverse and agile healthcare workforce. We will expand our promotion of opportunities from the National Health Service Corps and the organizations that employ them. We will continue partnering with the Bureau of Primary Health Care through our STAR2 Center and explore ways to expand this work to enhance ACU’s leadership in the healthcare workforce space to better meet emerging needs. And we will unite all these efforts through the lens of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
ACU’s finances and operations have evolved enormously in our 26 years of existence: what began as a small membership organization has grown to be a robust association serving an expanded membership and working with diverse partners to support our core mission and constituency. As ACU continues to grow and expand, we will evaluate and pursue emerging funding streams and partnerships to enable continued excellence in member services and programming as well as strategic growth. To achieve this, we will work to balance our funding, support growth and programs, and limit risk and improve sustainability.
ACU’s advocacy is crucial to help enable the support, resources, growth, and vision necessary to help carry the nation’s providers and healthcare workforce forward in caring for medically underserved communities. But there is more to be done, and ACU is ideally positioned to lead these efforts by harnessing the voice, experience, and passion of our network. In years to come, we will elevate ACU’s authority and visibility in workforce policy to ensure that Congress and decisionmakers at all levels recognize the imperative need to advance true health equity, support clinicians, and uplift and transform under-resourced communities. To do so, we will bolster legislative relationships and cultivate bipartisan support, grow our network, and strive—as always—to increase funding for the NHSC and other vital healthcare workforce programs.
For a quarter of a century, ACU has been a professional home and national voice for the healthcare workforce caring for medically under-resourced communities, and our strategic visibility and brand is a key pillar of our work. ACU will work tirelessly to strengthen the value, influence, and reach of our reputation, improve ACU’s ability to influence federal policy, and expand the breadth and value of our membership to ensure that ACU remains a sought-out professional home for the next 25 years and beyond. We will also expand our Advisory Council, build strategic partnerships, expand our membership base, and develop innovative resources.
ACU strives for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) both within and without, and we are working to reflect and advance JEDI principles across every area our work—from internal operations to external programs to improve our community’s work with under-resourced populations. In addition to ensuring JEDI integration in our internal policies and procedures, ACU will work to rapidly expand our work to assist our community in integrating JEDI in both organizational culture and healthcare services. Our new JEDI division will be a resource to support clinicians and other health care stakeholders in facilitating, sustaining, and growing their JEDI efforts to advance health equity.
The guidance and perspective of our members and network is crucial to help ACU continue to best meet the needs of our community and achieve our shared mission. We welcome your feedback: please contact Amanda Pears Kelly, ACU Executive Director, with any comments or suggestions.