Taylor Receives 2012 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award

Heather Taylor, MD, a pediatrician and assistant professor in the College of Community Health Sciences, was honored with the prestigious Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Faculty Award at The University of Alabama School of Medicine commencement on May 20.

Heather Taylor, MD

The award, presented by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, recognizes a faculty member who best demonstrates the foundation’s ideals of outstanding compassion in the delivery of care, respect for patients, their families and health care colleagues, as well as demonstrated clinical excellence. The Gold Foundation sponsors the annual Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Awards at 94 of the nation’s medical schools.

“This award was created to encourage the tradition of the caring doctor,” says Richard Streiffer, MD, dean of the College of Community Health Sciences. “As important as scientific knowledge and technical skills are to modern doctoring, the relationship between the practitioner and the patient remains paramount. Dr. Taylor is an outstanding example of a physician who balances the high-touch skills of effective communication, empathy and compassion with clinical excellence.”

The College of Community Health Sciences houses the Tuscaloosa branch campus of The University of Alabama School of Medicine. The main campus is located in Birmingham.

Taylor is the first female from The University of Alabama School of Medicine to receive the award, and only the second faculty member from the Tuscaloosa branch campus to do so.

“I was very surprised,” Taylor says. “I think it means the most to me knowing that it came from students. The Class of 2012 was a very smart, very accomplished and very diverse group of students and they were a fun group to teach. I have tremendous respect for who they are as individuals and I was especially honored to be recognized by them in this way.”

Recipients of the award must also demonstrate such professional behavior as being approachable and accessible to students and always welcoming opportunities for teaching and mentoring opportunities with students.

“It is particularly noteworthy for her to be recognized for this honor as a faculty member at the Tuscaloosa branch campus, as only a subset of University of Alabama School of Medicine students has regular contact with our faculty,” Streiffer says. “Clearly, she is impressive and an outstanding role model for students.” 

For further information please contact Elizabeth Hartley at the College of Community Health Sciences by calling 205-348-9109 or e-mailing her at ehartley@cchs.ua.edu

UA group sees increase in counseling requests a year after tornado

Project Rebound UA is part of the statewide Project Rebound effort, a crisis counselor program activated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after natural disasters.

4th Annual Research Day Features Students, Residents, and Faculty

Each year, the College holds an annual Research Day each year to display our collaborative research efforts and inform ourselves and The University of our findings. The 4th annual research day was conducted April 13, 2012.

UA Names Streiffer Dean of College of Community Health Sciences

Dr. Richard H. Streiffer, professor and past chairman of the department of family and community medicine at Tulane University Medical School in New Orleans, has been appointed dean of The University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences, the Tuscaloosa branch campus of the UA School of Medicine. 

Streiffer completed a residency in family medicine at UA’s College of Community Health Sciences and received the Outstanding Alumni Award for Academic Achievement from the College. He has more than 25 years of experience in the training of physicians for family and rural practice.

“Dr. Streiffer’s extensive experience in practicing and teaching family and rural medicine will make him a great leader for the College in the 21st century,” said Dr. Judy L. Bonner, UA interim president. “As a distinguished alumnus of our residency program, he will serve as a role model and guide for future physicians.”

Streiffer said he sees his role as dean as leading the College in its mission of training physicians and serving the needs of West Alabama families.

“A place like the College, based in the community with a primary-care mission, has a unique opportunity and, perhaps one would say, a social contract to focus on the needs of the community,” Streiffer said. “I see it as a place where academic physicians and health care professionals can engage with the community to figure out ways systematically to help those communities with their needs, including the physician work force needs, to improve the health of their citizens.”

A native of New Orleans, Streiffer is a graduate of Tulane University and the Louisiana State University School of Medicine. After completing a residency at UA, he spent several years in rural practice in Mississippi and served as a preceptor, or mentor, for students in his office.

He began his teaching career at the University of Mississippi and later served as director of the Mercy Family Medicine Residency in Denver. He also worked as the pre-doctoral education director in family medicine at LSU School of Medicine and as founding director of Baton Rouge General Medical Center’s Family Medicine Residency program. In 1998, he joined the Tulane faculty to start the department of family and community medicine.

Streiffer has maintained an active primary care practice throughout his career, and he holds board certification in family medicine and a Certificate of Added Qualification in Geriatrics. In addition, he has been the project director on several federal training grants with a focus on primary care education and development of a rural physician work force.

He was appointed to the Louisiana Health Works Commission by Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2009, and he has served as the co-chair of the Governor’s Interagency Task Force on the Future of Family Medicine in Louisiana from 2004 to 2012. From his wide perspective on family and rural care, Streiffer sees many opportunities for the students and residents entering the College’s programs.

“I think we are facing today the most optimistic future that family medicine has had since its birth in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” Streiffer said. “The country, the government, at many levels, and big health systems, at many levels, have come to understand that vigorous expansion and support of primary care is absolutely critical if we are going to improve health care outcomes at the same time that we restrain, and, perhaps even lower, what we spend per capita on health care as a country.”

In 2011, Streiffer received the Teaching Scholar Award from Tulane’s School of Medicine and the President’s Award for Excellence in Graduate and Professional School Teaching, a university-wide award given to faculty members who have a sustained and compelling record of excellence in teaching and learning and an ongoing commitment to educational excellence. Streiffer plans to bring that level of excellence to his leadership at the College.

“The College and my residency experience here have always been a model of education that I have come back to,” Streiffer said.

With the College approaching its 40th anniversary, Streiffer said he looks forward to the challenges of preparing physicians for changes in the U.S. health-care system, particularly in the delivery of more comprehensive and coordinated primary care.

“That’s really what the charge is for the next decade, for the College to look hard at the model of how we train our doctors and anticipate the right type of skill set, the right type of training environment to prepare doctors not only for today but for 20 years from now,” he said.

Streiffer is married to New Orleans native Ann, a nurse practitioner. They have three grown children and four grandchildren.

The College of Community Health Sciences was established in 1972 in response to the state’s acute need for more primary care physicians. Many areas of Alabama, particularly small towns and rural communities, suffered from a serious lack of health care. Four decades later, the College has made significant strides in making health care more available and accessible in the state, with one out of every seven practicing family physicians in the state a graduate of the College’s residency.

Approximately 700 medical students have received their third and fourth years of clinical training at the College. Of these graduates, more than half have chosen careers in primary care. The College’s Tuscaloosa Family Medicine Residency has seen similar success, graduating nearly 400 family physicians into practice, with more than half of those in Alabama and the majority of those in towns with fewer than 25,000 residents and in Health Professional Shortage Areas.

Now entering its fourth decade, the College will continue to focus on primary care, rural health and the state’s unique health care need by training skilled medical practitioners and researchers for the future.

Garner Named to Top Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Post

Originally posted on UA News

Margaret P. Garner, associate professor in The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences, has been named director-at-large for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, formerly the American Dietetic Association.

Margaret Garner

Margaret P. Garner

The Academy has over 72,000 members and is the world’s largest professional organization of food and nutrition specialists.   Garner will serve a three-year term that will begin this June.

At UA, Garner is an associate professor of family medicine and assistant dean for health education and outreach in CCHS. She is also the director of the department of health promotion and wellness at the Student Health Center, director of nutrition and education services for the University Medical Center, and an adjunct assistant professor in the department of human nutrition and hospitality management’s coordinated dietetics program.

Garner helped establish and was the first chair of the Alabama Food and Nutrition Exposition, a unique partnership of the Alabama Dietetic Association, Alabama Dietary Managers Association and Alabama School Nutrition Association.

In 2011, she received the academy’s highest honor, the Marjorie Hulsizer Copher Award. Garner has served in leadership roles in the academy, including as a member of the board of directors and commission on dietetic registration. She was a member and chair of the academy’s legislative and public policy committee, political action committee, coding and coverage committee, council on education and strategic planning task force.

Garner is a past president of the Tuscaloosa District Dietetic Association and the Alabama Dietetic Association. A graduate of Georgia Southern College, Garner received a master’s degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and completed a postgraduate fellowship in the area of nutrition and developmental disorders at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine’s Child Development Center in Memphis.

13th Annual Rural Health Conference – Rural Rebound

The 13th annual Rural Health Conference will be held on April 20th, 2012. This year’s topic is Rural Rebound: Emergency Preparedness and Crisis Response. Registration is available now.

40th Anniversary of the College of Community Health Sciences

The College of  Community Health Sciences will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. All alumni are encouraged to visit us for an entire weekend of events on April 20th and 21st.

Project Rebound UA Assists Students Affected by Tornado

Originally posted by UA News

The Project Rebound program at The University of Alabama is offering crisis counseling for students impacted by the April 2011 tornadoes.

Project Rebound UA can provide help for students who may be experiencing emotional and other issues resulting from the tornadoes. The program was launched in November in response to the deadly storms and will continue through this June.

The project is funded with a $536,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded to a partnership of the University’s Institute for Rural Health Research and the Alabama Department of Mental Health.

“Project Rebound UA represents the first time that FEMA has provided funding for an outreach effort focused specifically on a university campus,” said Dr. Melanie Tucker, assistant professor in the Institute for Rural Health Research and the College of Community Health Sciences’ department of community and rural medicine, who is directing the project.

Project Rebound UA crisis counselors Nan Fu, left, and Arlesia Malone provide information about the program to students during the University’s Get on Board Day event earlier this year.

FEMA has currently trained 20 UA graduate students from different areas of study to serve as crisis counselors for individuals and groups of people alike. They can be found across campus daily in locations such as the Ferguson Center, on the Quad and in campus libraries, dormitories and dining facilities. Their goal is to start conversations with students in an effort to gauge their need for further aid, such as community services, medical treatment or mental health assistance.

Disasters cause upheaval in many forms, often resulting in survivors’ loss of security, property, community, health, friends, loved ones and their sense of safety. They can therefore experience increased risk for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other health conditions.

Rather than offering traditional psychiatric counseling for these issues, the crisis counselors simply listen to students and work to connect them to the resources they might need. They ask students how they are coping and offer them a chance to talk about what they might be going through, reassuring them that what they are feeling is common and part of the recovery process.

It really is unique,” adds Lisa Turley, state director for Project Rebound. “And part of the uniqueness is the way that the student team is reaching out to other students using Twitter, Facebook and texting, which is proving beneficial to students.”

Reports from the team indicate that students are comfortable with social media communication and that it helps lay the groundwork for easier face-to-face communication with the crisis counselors.

“When students see one of the team members on campus, it makes it easier to engage in conversation. The trust level has already been established,” said Turley.

Project Rebound UA also played a role in FEMA’s recent decision to incorporate a texting component to its Distress Help Line. It is currently available to disaster areas in Alabama and Joplin, Mo., where the agency is providing crisis counseling.

“The response the UA team has gotten gave FEMA a much stronger sense of confidence and comfort rolling out that texting piece,” said Turley. “We were thinking texting would be helpful for people who might have a communication disability issue, if they were hard of hearing or deaf. We were surprised at the number of students using texting.”

Turley reports that between Project Rebound UA’s launch in November and the end of January, 167 individual counseling encounters and 2,646 outreach encounters were recorded. FEMA plans to break down those numbers to determine how many of the encounters were via texting and other forms of social media.

“Project Rebound UA began its work at just the right time — when people really needed to talk, and to have that immediate contact, even if it’s a counselor texting back, reaching out, making a connection, being supportive and letting them know there are people who care,” said Turley.

Many UA students who may have been impacted by or witnessed the April tornados and their aftermath immediately left Tuscaloosa afterward without counseling, information and access to fellow victims with shared experiences. As a result, there were concerns that students might have a delayed reaction in dealing with the storm that might not emerge until after they returned to Tuscaloosa. Project Rebound UA is working to help make sure that trauma from the tornado does not impact students’ education, health and well-being.

Turley says she was curious why so many students would want to work as crisis counselors and be involved in something that can take such an emotional toll.

“When they told me that they just wanted to help others continue with their recovery, it amazed me. Their dedication to this is just phenomenal,” she said.

She says FEMA plans to use Project Rebound UA as a blueprint for similar outreach efforts at university campuses across the country.

“We’ve found something that works and we’re going to put it out there so people can replicate it on their campuses. We know that we can reach people and reach them effectively.

”For more information about Project Rebound UA, call 205/348-0025, visit www.projectrebound.ua.edu, or find Project Rebound UA on Twitter at Proj_ReboundUA.

Researchers Win Grant to Study How Congregations Can Reduce AIDS Stigma

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — University of Alabama researchers have received a multiyear grant to examine the role that African-American congregations can play in reducing HIV/AIDS-related stigma in rural Alabama.

Dr. Pamela Foster, deputy director of the UA Institute for Rural Health Research, is principal investigator of the $530,368 grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Foster is also an assistant professor in the College of Community Health Sciences’ department of community and rural medicine. Dr. Susan Gaskins, a professor in the University’s Capstone College of Nursing, is senior investigator on the project.

From left - Susan Gaskins, Pamela Foster and Myra Vickery

The purpose of the four-year study, funded by the CDC’s Minority AIDS Research Initiative, is to conduct and evaluate an HIV/AIDS anti-stigma related intervention among 10 African-American congregations in rural Alabama. The overall goal of the project, “Faith-Based Anti-Stigma Intervention Toward Healing HIV/AIDS,” or Project FAITHH, is to decrease both individual and community-wide stigma in these congregations.

As part of their research, Foster, Gaskins and Myra Vickery, a graduate research assistant on the project, will conduct daylong HIV/AIDS seminars and a seven-week anti-stigma intervention that has been adopted by a ministerial group in Ghana, Africa. Project activities in the targeted congregations will measure changes in HIV/AIDS knowledge, as well HIV/AIDS-related stigma.

Four ministerial liaisons representing different denominations and organizations will assist Foster and Gaskins in their research: the Rev. Chris Spencer, assistant director of UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships and pastor of St. Matthew-Watson Missionary Baptist Church in Boligee; the Rev. Sam Gordon III, pastor of Macedonia CME Church in Goshen;  the Rev. Willie Smith, pastor of Salem Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Letohatchie; and the Rev. John Meeks, a member and former president of the New Era Baptist Conference.

Other partners include the Alabama/NW Florida Regional Minister of Disciples of Christ and the Alabama Consumer Advisory Board, whose membership includes HIV-positive individuals.

In addition to decreasing stigma and increasing HIV knowledge, Project FAITHH hopes to increase the number of HIV/AIDS prevention activities in which congregation members participate, as well as increase the number of HIV positive people who become members of participating churches.

Finding effective strategies to decrease HIV/AIDS-related stigma is a major challenge in HIV/AIDS prevention research, Foster said. In addition, few strategies have been tested in rural African-American communities in the Deep South, particularly among faith-based leaders and their congregations, where stigma may be higher.

“We know from previous research that HIV positive persons value spirituality in their overall healing process,” Foster said. “However, they have often not become active members of rural congregations because of the stigma. We hope to turn that around with the study.”

Because stigma has also been addressed as a reason for the slow response of African-American church leadership to participate in prevention activities within their congregations and communities, “Strategies to decrease HIV/AIDS-related stigma, particularly among African-American church leaders such as pastors, is believed to be a strategy that could increase HIV/AIDS prevention activities in the African-American community in the rural Deep South,” Foster said.

Foster and Gaskins have conducted research on stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. In particular, they have focused on HIV/AIDS-related stigma in rural African-American communities, stigma of HIV/AIDS in older, rural African-Americans living in the South, disclosure issues among rural African-American men infected with HIV, and faith-based approaches to HIV/AIDS prevention.

The College of Community Health Sciences was established in 1972 in response to the state’s acute need for more primary care physicians. Many areas of Alabama, particularly small towns and rural communities, suffered from a serious lack of health care. Four decades later, the College has made significant strides in making health care more available and accessible in the state.

Approximately 700 medical students have received their third and fourth years of clinical training at the College. Of these graduates, more than half have chosen careers in primary care. The College’s Tuscaloosa Family Medicine Residency has seen similar success, placing nearly 400 family medicine physicians into practice, with more than half of those in Alabama and the majority of those in towns with fewer than 25,000 residents.

Robotic Surgery: A Less Invasive Procedure

Faculty physicians in the College’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and University Medical Center are the first in Tuscaloosa to use robotic surgery to perform hysterectomies and other gynecological procedures. They say the robotic system allows them to operate with more precision and less fatigue, while patients experience improved outcomes, especially in shorter hospital stays, less pain and quicker recovery times.

Marion Reed, MD, an obstetrics and gynecology physician and assistant professor in the department, uses the robotic system for many of the hysterectomies he performs. He says the minimally invasive nature of robotic surgery and the resulting smaller incisions mean that “some of my patients have only had to do this procedure as an out-patient procedure. Others only need to stay in the hospital overnight.” Reed uses the da Vinci robotic system located at DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa.

Robotic surgery was first introduced a decade ago by the U.S. military, which wanted surgeons to be able to operate on wounded soldiers on the battlefield without putting themselves at risk. While the military’s efforts were not successful as hoped, the robotic method was picked up by the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Intuitive Surgical Inc., maker of the da Vinci System.

The da Vinci System consists of a large device with four arms that hover over a patient-side cart and are controlled from a nearby console. Three of the arms are for tools that hold a scalpel, scissors and other surgical instruments and operate through small incisions in the patient’s body; the fourth arm is for an endoscopic camera with two lenses that give the surgeon stereoscopic vision from the console.

The surgeon sits at the console and looks through a viewfinder. With joystick- like controls in each hand, the surgeon manipulates the arms on the robotic system while looking at images captured by the camera on the viewfinder. The robotic arms’ joint-wrist design exceeds the natural range of motion of the human hand, and the view of the patient and the surgical area is magnified up to 10 times through the camera. “Use of this system has tremendously improved surgeon’s dexterity,” Reed says.

Since its introduction, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been expanding approval of the use of robotic surgery. Urologists were among the first to use robotic surgery, followed by cardiologists and gynecologists. Today, robotic surgery is used to perform minimally invasive heart, prostate, gynecological and other common operations.

Reed is quick to point out that the robotic system is not a self-driven device, but rather a tool in the hands of the surgeon. He says surgeons must go through special training to use the machines.

While robotic surgery is a natural progression from laparoscopic surgery for hysterectomies, Reed says he uses robotic surgery as an option and not a total replacement of laparoscopic surgery or vaginal hysterectomies.

Laparoscopic surgery is minimally- invasive surgery performed with the help of a telescope-like device that lets the surgeon see inside the abdomen or pelvis. But with laparoscopy, a surgical assistant must hold a camera, and the surgeon operates while standing, using hand-held instruments that have no wrists. The surgeon must also look up and away to a nearby video monitor to see an image of the surgical procedure being captured by the hand-held camera. Reed says with robotic surgery, there is a better view of the patient surgical area as well as more precision and less fatigue.

He acknowledges there is a “mixed reaction” to robotic surgery among surgeons and physicians because surgical procedures using a robotic system can take longer. But he believes that in many cases, the advantages of robotic surgery outweigh the additional time.

“I wish I could have done all my surgeries this way,” he says.