WASHINGTON, D.C. (DC News Now) — A conference in the Nation’s Capital today singled out West Virginia’s STEM education program as a model for other states to follow. It’s focus? Delivering healthcare to rural and underserved communities.

The West Virginia model starts kids as early as 9th grade to acquire the skills needed to enter the health professions.

“The difference it has made in their lives,” said Bethany Hornbeck, a West Virginia health education consultant, “In their communities – these kids are the first generation to go to college, a lot of them. They’re from low-income backgrounds, they’re African-American, and they’re rural. These are kids who would not necessarily be going to college.”

The program approaches 30 years of success in the Mountain State. Successful completion leads to a tuition waiver to any in-state college.

“To give them a hand up, not a handout,” said Dr. Cathy Morton, head of the West Virginia University Health Sciences and Technology Academy. “We don’t have brain drain and that’s something we’re really proud of.”

This gathering was hosted by the National Institutes for Health (NIH), other states are embracing West Virginia’s model.

“We reached out to NIH to have a discussion with them and they told us about the West Virginia program,” said Robin Bartlett, Ph.D., RN with the University of Alabama. “it has been wildly successful.”

Julia Boge is a teacher in Kansas where that state’s program parallels the success of West Virginia’s.

“In their senior year they’ll get them out into the community, working in hospitals and clinics,” Boge says. And she notes “There’s a lot of difference in affluent districts versus underserved districts in terms of the networks the students have.”