Initiated by medical, law, nursing and undergraduate students at Vanderbilt University in 1970, the Appalachian Student Health Coalition reached out to medically underserved communities in upper East Tennessee, Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia, and joined with local leaders with the goal of building a network of primary care clinics and bringing health services to some of the region’s most remote places. “Health fairs,” often held in schools or churches, provided the opportunity for the medical and nursing students to perform health screenings while the Coalition’s community organizers allied with local residents to form citizen-controlled Health Councils to lead the ongoing efforts to construct the clinics and attract doctors and nurse practitioners.
While significant geographic disparities in access to health care persist, both in Appalachia and around the nation, the Appalachian Student Health Coalition experience offers valuable insights to the complex dynamics of public health delivery, community organizing and the role of rural citizens in securing positive health outcomes. This unique story is further enriched by the concurrent organizing efforts focused on coal strip mining and its devastation; by the legal and public policy issues ignited in both the health and environmental arenas; and, of course, the many lives fundamentally changed by the enduring relationships between the communities and the once-young students.
The Appalachian Student Health Coalition Archive Project is a partnership between members of the Appalachian Student Health Coalition community and the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill aimed at building a unique community-driven archive of historical documents, photographs, audio recordings, artifacts, and other treasures to encourage the study of the Coalition’s public health and community organizing work throughout the Appalachian region.
We also welcome contributions from the public. We hope you will participate by adding your story, donating additional historical items to the archive, identifying photographs or adding comments and feedback.