Rural Medical Scholar receives UA award for service

Allison Montgomery, a recent graduate of the College of Community Health Sciences’s current Rural Medical Scholars class, was awarded the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, the highest honor given to a University of Alabama student as a recognition of excellence in character and service to humanity.

Montgomery, of Talladega, Ala., is a Biology major and will enroll in the University of Alabama School of Medicine next year. She plans a career as a physician in rural Alabama, which has a shortage of primary care and family medicine physicians.

The Rural Medical Scholars program is exclusively for rural Alabama students who want to become physicians and practice in rural communities. The program includes a year of study, after students receive their undergraduate degree, that leads to a master’s degree in Rural Community Health, and provides early admission to the University of Alabama School of Medicine. Rural Medical Scholars spend their first two years of medical school at the School of Medicine’s main campus in Birmingham and then return to the College for their final two years of clinical education.

Montgomery is a member of the UA Blackburn Institute and XXXI, a women’s honorary organization at UA. She has served as president of the Mortar Board honor society and in the Student Government Association.

As director of the SGA’s Sunday Service Initiative, she oversaw student efforts for tornado relief in Tuscaloosa in 2011, and traveled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic on medical service trips. Montgomery was also UA’s 2014 homecoming queen.

New faculty to fill leadership roles

Dr. Thomas Weida joins the College of Community Health Sciences this summer as associate dean of Clinical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer, assuming a major leadership and administrative role, particularly in the College’s clinical enterprise.

His wife, Dr. Jane Weida, also joins the College this summer as associate director of The University of Alabama Family Medicine Residency, where she will help to oversee the program.

Both will also have academic appointments in the Department of Family Medicine.

“The Weidas have an impressive and extensive track record as clinicians, teachers and physician leaders at a local, state and national level,” says Dr. Richard Streiffer, CCHS dean. “We are truly honored and fortunate to have them joining our family.”

 Thomas Weida earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., and Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital in Philadelphia. He completed his family medicine residency at Lancaster General Hospital in Lancaster, Pa. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians and holds a Certificate of Added Qualification in Geriatric Medicine. After 14 years in private practice in rural Pennsylvania, he joined the faculty at the Penn State Hershey College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa., obtaining the rank of professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. While there, he served as medical director of the Penn State Hershey Medical Group and more recently as medical director for Information Technology for the Department of Family Medicine at Hershey Medical Center.

Weida is active in professional organizations. He served on the AAFP Board of Directors for seven years and as the AAFP representative to the AMA Relative Value Update Committee. He currently chairs the Payment Core Team for “Family Medicine for America’s Health,” the current project of family medicine organizations dedicated to improving the practice climate for family physicians.

Jane Weida received her medical degree from Jefferson Medical College and completed her family medicine residency at Chestnut Hill Hospital in Philadelphia. Following 13 years in private practice in Blue Bell, Pa., she spent six years as faculty at Penn State College of Medicine before joining an affiliated community-based family medicine residency in West Reading, Pa. There, she taught residents and medical students, served as the medical director, clerkship director and as co-director of the residency’s Global Health Track.

Weida is currently a clinical associate professor at Penn State College of Medicine and is active in professional organizations. She is the immediate past president of the AAFP Foundation, where she developed the organization’s signature humanitarian program in Haiti. She is committed to residency education, medical student interest in family medicine and global health and has traveled extensively to provide family medicine education in Haiti and many former Soviet Republics in Asia and Europe.

Rural Medical Scholar gives back to program

Dr. Rick Jotani, a family physician in Pell City, Ala., and a graduate of the Rural Medical Scholars Program at the College of Community Health Sciences, has pledged $50,000 to the program.

Jotani, who has practiced in Pell City since 2006, also completed his third and fourth years of medical school at CCHS, which functions as a regional campus of the University of Alabama School of Medicine.

“The reason I wanted to make this contribution to the RMSP was because the program was so instrumental in helping me become a physician,” he says. “It guided me into primary care and helped mold me into the family medicine physician that I am today.”

Jotani has made a commitment of $10,000 a year for five years to support the RMSP through The University of Alabama Rural Medical Programs Endowed Discretionary Fund, established by an anonymous donor and approved by the UA Board of Trustees in 2000.

The purpose of the fund is to create an endowment to which other funds can be added “to promote a comprehensive rural medical education program and educational excellence for students in rural medical programs at CCHS,” says Dr. John Wheat, founder and director of the RMSP and a professor of Community and Rural Medicine at the College.

The fund and endowment will help meet program expenses not covered by state and grant sources, provide scholarship support for rural medical scholars and lay a foundation for future endowed rural faculty and research positions and rural medical fellowships, Wheat says.

The RMSP is nationally recognized for producing primary care and rural physicians. The program, which is exclusively for rural Alabama students, is a five-year track of medical studies that focuses on rural primary care and community medicine and leads to a medical degree. Since its founding two decades ago, the program has had 187 participants; 123 have completed medical school and 90 have completed residencies.

“It is highly satisfying to see former students reaching professional milestones. It is especially gratifying to see those like Rick reinvesting in the RMSP,” Wheat says. “It is gift support like this that helps create a stable foundation for continued growth in the RMSP and related rural medical education.”

After graduating from the University of Alabama School of Medicine, Jotani completed a residency in family medicine at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center in Spartanburg, S.C. He also completed a fellowship in sports medicine at Halifax Sports Medicine in Daytona Beach, Fla.

He is a member of the American Academy of Family Practice and the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, and is the team physician for Pell City High School.

Primary care needs to include testing for Hepatitis C, expert says

Hepatitis C is curable so health care providers and primary care clinics should test patients for the virus, especially those born between 1945 and 1965 when the screening of blood products was not as rigorous as it is today, said Dr. Michael Saag, a professor of internal medicine and director of the Division of Infectious Disease at the University of Alabama school of Medicine’s main campus in Birmingham.

Hepatitis C, or HCV, is an infectious disease that primarily affects the liver. The infection often shows no symptoms, but after many years of chronic infection can lead to scarring of the liver and ultimately to cirrhosis. In some cases, those with cirrhosis will go on to develop liver cancer.

“We are just about hitting the peak for those possibly getting cirrhosis, so we need to get rid of this while we can,” said Saag, who provided the David and Natica Bahar Memorial Lecture on April 7, 2015. The endowed lecture is hosted annually by the College of Community Health Sciences.

An estimated 170 people worldwide are infected with HCV, including 3.4 million people in the United States who might not even know that they are infected, Saag said. HCV is spread primarily by blood-to-blood contact, poorly sterilized medical equipment and blood transfusions. The virus and chronic infection can be treated with medication, and most patient who are treated are cured within 12 weeks, Saag said.

“So we have to test, then link to care,” he said. “When you treat, they get better. Rapidly. It’s so cool to say that— you are cured.”

Saag is hoping to receive grant funding soon that will allow him to establish a program in Birmingham hospitals that will test people being treated in emergency rooms for HCV.

“We can start treating hepatitis,” he said. “It’s not only feasible, but it’s something we really should do.”

Saag received his undergraduate degree from Tulane University in New Orleans and earned his medical degree from the University of Louisville. He completed his residency and infectious disease and molecular virology fellowship training at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. During that time, Saag made seminal discoveries in the genetic evolution of HIV in vivo and helped lead a multi-center national AIDS clinical trial on the management of
cryptococcal meningitis. He also conceived the concept of a comprehensive HIV outpatient clinic dedicated to the provision of comprehensive patient care.

Saag has participated in many studies of antiretroviral therapy as well as novel treatments for opportunistic infections. He has published more than 260 articles in peer-reviewed journals and has received numerous awards for his work in HIV/AIDS research.

The David and Natica Bahar Memorial Lecture was established in memory of Natica Bahar, wife of Tuscaloosa physician Dr. David Bahar. Natica Bahar was active in community projects and charitable and cultural
organizations in Tuscaloosa. David Bahar was well known throughout Tuscaloosa County for his work in the fight against tuberculosis. He was also a clinical professor in the College’s Department of Internal Medicine.

College hosts annual Research and Scholarly Activity Day

A total of 42 posters were presented by College of Community Health Sciences’s faculty, staff, resident physicians, medical students and graduate students at its 7th annual Research and Scholarly Activity Day April 9.

Winners were named in three categories:

Faculty and Staff 1st Place—Thad Ulzen, MD, Gordon Donnir, MD, John C. Higginbotham, PhD, Laurence Jerome, MD, and George Segal, PhD, for Undiagnosed ADHD Among Unionized Drivers in Ghana: Public Health and Policy Implications.

Faculty and Staff 2nd Place—Harriet Myers, PhD, Melanie Tucker, PhD, and Catherine Scarbrough, MD, for Perceived Efficacy and Satisfaction of the Videotaping Process in the TFMR.

Resident—Kelly Shoemake, MD, Daniel Avery, MD, Karen Burgess, MD, John McDonald, MD, Susanna Raley, Catherine Skinner, MD, Kristine Graettinger, MD, Melanie Tucker, PhD, and Jason Parton, PhD, for Neonatal Outcomes of 26,331 Infants Delivered by Family Physicians Practicing Obstetrics and Obstetrician/Gynecologists.

Student 1st Place—Russell Fung, BS, and Jonathan Wingo, PhD, for Effect of Exercise Mode on Cardiovascular Drift and Maximal Oxygen Uptake During Heat Stress.

Student 2nd Place—Cole Buchanan, Dwight Lewis, PhD, Glenn Davis, EMT-P, Jason Parton, PhD, and John C. Higginbotham, PhD for Patterns of Caffeine, Tobacco, and Stimulant Drug Use Among Emergency Medical Service Providers that Regularly Work 24-Hour Shifts: Preliminary Findings

Of the posters presented, 31 were authored by faculty and staff, 14 by medical students, 10 by graduate students and one by a resident.

Following the poster viewing, members of the CCHS medical student research organization, the Larry Mayes Research Society, led an Art of Research presentation. Two third-year medical students presented their research projects and findings.

Justin Deavers worked on Assessing the Diagnosis Habits of Rural and Urban Physicians Concerning Childhood Obesity with Dr. Karen Burgess, associate professor and chair of the College’s Department of Pediatrics, and Dr. James Leeper, a professor in the Department of Community and Rural Medicine.

Deavers said the objective of the research was to determine if physicians diagnose overweight and obesity in children and, if not, the barriers that prevent diagnosis. Findings showed that lack of time was the greatest barrier —a lack of time by physicians to ask about lifestyle factors that might contribute to overweight and obesity, to develop a treatment plan and to follow up with patients.

Melissa Jordan presented her work, Effectiveness of Visual Illusory Treatment on Reducing Spinal Cord Injury Related Neuropathic Pain Determined by Quantitative Sensory Testing and Location of Pain. She worked on the project with Dr. Elizabeth Richardson in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Health conference to host culinary medicine director

The goal of the 16th Annual Rural Health Conference is to push the understanding of individual, clinical and 
community healthcare in rural Alabama.

The conference will be held April 17 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Ferguson Student Center on The University of Alabama’s campus and is open to healthcare professionals, community and government leaders, policymakers, researchers and others who aspire to make a difference in community rural health, according to the RHC website.

“The Rural Health Conference is hosted by the Institute for Rural Health Research,” said Leslie Zganjar, director of the College of Community Health Sciences Department of Communications. “This conference is one of its biggest projects for the year, and this year they are having what we are calling a cooking challenge put on by a chef employed by the Tulane University School of Medicine.”

Leeper honored for contributions of statistical knowledge to medical, public health research

Dr. James Leeper, a professor in the Department of Community and Rural Medicine at the College of Community Health Sciences, has been selected as a Fellow of the American Statistical Association.

Leeper was recognized for “continuous contributions of statistical knowledge to the medical and public health research communities; for outstanding mentorship and teaching of medical, other health sciences, and graduate students; and for service to the statistics profession through exceptional leadership as an applied statistician in public health and medicine.”

A ceremony to honor Leeper will be held Aug. 11 in Seattle during the ASA annual meeting.

“It is a real honor to be recognized by one’s peers and professional organization,” says Dr. Richard Streiffer, dean of the College.

Leeper teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on biostatistics and serves on numerous thesis and dissertation committees. He directs the College’s master’s degree program in Rural Community Health and is the director of Education and Evaluation for the College’s rural programs. He is also a charter senior investigator in the College’s Institute for Rural Health Research.

Leeper received The University of Alabama National Alumni Association’s prestigious Outstanding Commitment to Teaching Award in 1995 and the 2003 Outstanding Alumni Award from the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa. He is a member of the National Rural Health Association Rural Medical Educators Group, which is influential in the development of rural medical education policy and programing.

He has served on a variety of boards and in chair positions for the ASA and the American Public Health Association. He has published more than 90 referred articles, co-authored four book chapters, and co-authored more than 100 paper presentations and posters. Much of his work deals with rural health issues, including community-based program evaluation as well as with statistical methodology, including missing data problems in the longitudinal analysis and spatial/temporal analysis.

Leeper earned his PhD in biostatistics at the University of Iowa. Upon graduation, he joined the College and from 1987 through 2001 was chair of the Department of Community and Rural Medicine.

The American Statistical Association is the world’s largest community of statisticians and supports excellence in the development, application and dissemination of statistical science through meetings, publications, membership services, education, accreditation and advocacy. Members serve in academia, industry and government in more than 90 countries and work to advance research and promote sound statistical practice to inform public policy and improve human welfare.


Bill repealing hospital stay for women after giving birth withdrawn

A stay of 48 hours is standard, particularly to observe a mother for risks of postpartum hemorrhage, the single most common complication after delivery, said Dr. John McDonald, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the College of Community Health Sciences