New School of Medicine dean says College can be a model for primary care

Selwyn Vickers, MD, new senior vice president and dean of the University of Alabama School of Medicine, headquartered in Birmingham, visited the College of Community Health Sciences Nov. 8 for a luncheon and meet-and-greet conversation. 

elwyn Vickers, MD, new senior vice president and dean of the University of Alabama School of Medicine, headquartered in Birmingham, visited the College of Community Health Sciences Nov. 8 for a luncheon and meet-and-greet conversation.

Selwyn Vickers, MD, new senior vice president and dean of the University of Alabama School of Medicine visited the College Nov. 8.

Vickers, a native of rural West Alabama who grew up in the Tuscaloosa area, assumed his new position in October. He is a renowned surgeon, pancreatic cancer researcher and pioneer in health disparities research.

“I can’t tell you how pleased I have been to hear all the work your dean and your faculty and your staff are doing not only to prepare to train students, but to prepare to take care of people in this part of Alabama and to prepare to be part of a more global force to deal with primary care,” Vickers said at the luncheon about the College, which also functions as the Tuscaloosa Regional Campus of the School of Medicine, training a cohort of third- and fourth-year medical students.

Vickers started by speaking about his love for his home state of Alabama.

“For me, the opportunity to do something significant in my home state that could not only affect the state, but affect the Southeast and the country, was something I just couldn’t pass up,” he said about his decision to return to Alabama after serving, since 2006, as the Jay Phillips Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery and Associate Director of Translational Research at the Masonic Cancer Center, both at the University of Minnesota.

“It’s with that background that I come in as dean having the passion for education, for research and also for clinical care.”

Previously, Vickers directed the section of Gastrointestinal Surgery and was co-director of the Minority Health Research Center and the Pancreaticobillary Center at the University of Alabama School of Medicine. He joined the School of Medicine after earning baccalaureate and medical degrees from the John Hopkins University, which is where he completed his surgical training, including a chief residency.

Vickers addressed a variety of issues at the luncheon, including the Affordable Care Act and what it means to physicians and health care providers, as well as the global issue of health care and the role the College, the School of Medicine and the state play in it.

He also discussed Alabama’s current state of health and what physicians can do to improve it.

“If you can improve the lives of individuals who are really suffering for multiple reasons, you can change the lives of many people in the entire state,” he said. “The challenge of primary care is the willingness to engage a population to own its health, to be preventive, to be thoughtful and design delivery mechanisms that can truly touch the population of our state that needs it the most.

“We want to show the rest of the country that what we can do can be modeled elsewhere, because we want the best for all of our people—not just those who can afford it or who have access to health care.”

First nine Hale County Health Scholars graduates honored, Bentley keynote speaker

The first nine graduates of the Hale County Health Scholars program were honored at a luncheon ceremony Thursday, Nov. 21, at Moundville Archaeological Park with Gov. Robert Bentley as the keynote speaker. 

Gov. Robert Bentley and Shaquila Washington, Hale County Health Scholar and senior at Sunshine High School

Gov. Robert Bentley and Shaquila Washington, Hale County Health Scholar and senior at Sunshine High School

The senior luncheon acknowledged students who were selected from across Hale County in 2011 based on their academic record, volunteer activities, leadership skills and essays about their future plans. Once a month, the students participated in activities related to health careers, including visits to local health care facilities, agro-medicine field trips to farms, seminars with health professionals and skills workshops.

The Hale County Health Scholars Program is one of three West Alabama Health Scholars programs (the others are in Fayette and Pickens County) operated by the College of Community Health Sciences. The programs—initiated by the West Alabama Health Development Partnership—are designed to introduce high school students to health care professions and the needs in their communities. The programs are conducted by local leaders in health care and education sectors working with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the State of Alabama, the Appalachian Regional Commission and The University of Alabama.

Bentley offered words of encouragement to the students, saying that while they are at the very beginnings of their careers in health, they have the opportunity to succeed and give back to their communities.   

“[The Rural Medical Scholars Program] is a program that really shows results,” he said. “But it takes time—it’s not something that obviously occurs in a year or two or three. It takes a long time to prepare for a medical career. But the program has been in place for several years, and as we look at the maps across Alabama, and we see the physicians that have been produced, it makes me very proud of this program and proud to have been part of it.”

Bentley also said that the Appalachian Regional Commission, upon his recommendation, would offer funding for another year to the College to continue the Hale County Health Scholars program.

The Rural Medical Scholars Program, one of the programs in the College’s Rural Health Leaders Pipeline, is a five-year track of medical studies leading to a medical degree, including a year prior into medical school and four years of medical school. College seniors or graduate students from rural areas are eligible to participate.

Also present at the luncheon were Jimmy Lester, state program manager for the Appalachian Regional Commission; Jim Byard, director for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs; Tom Lackey, administrator for Hale County Hospital; Tyrone Smith, coordinator for the Hale County Cooperative Extension Service; and Jenny Hughey, teacher for the Hale County School System. Each also addressed the students offering words of praise and encouragement.

The graduates also gave speeches sharing their thoughts on the program and what they have received from it.

Shaquila Washington, a senior at Sunshine High School, said that being a Hale County Health Scholar has helped her decide to pursue a career in health care after she graduates high school, and she attributes a large part of that decision to the shadowing opportunities she took advantage of.

“I’d say to any of the scholars coming after us that if you have a chance to shadow, go for it. It opens up a different view of something you might want to do. Besides hearing someone talk about what they do, you can be there to see and know if you want to do it, too.”

She also offered thanks to those who lead the program.

“You opened up so many doors for us,” she said. “You showed us things that we probably wouldn’t have seen if we were just at school on a day-to-day basis, not involved with anything. So thank you for giving us this opportunity.”

The West Alabama Health Scholars programs are a community-based component of The University of Alabama Rural Health Leaders Pipeline, part of the College of Community Health Sciences. The pipeline is a series of programs based at the University that help rural Alabama students prepare for careers in medicine and other health fields and enter practice in rural areas of the state. These programs were created to address the chronic shortage of health professionals in rural and underserved areas of Alabama.


Hale County Health Scholars graduates:

Moesha Gaitor, Greensboro High School

Zoshsha Hamilton, Greensboro High School

Bethany Lewis, Hale County High School

Gabrielle Owens, Sunshine High School

Katelyn Price, Hale County High School

Jackson Seale, Hale County High School

Kia Skipper, Greensboro High School

Shaquila Washington, Sunshine High School

Caleb Wyatt, Hale County High School


No Flu Zone Campaign receives prestigious University Service Award


Members of the College’s Flu Blast Team were recognized publicly at the State of the University Address on Nov. 13.

At a recent “State of the University” address, Judy Bonner, PhD, president of The University of Alabama, presented the College of Community Health Sciences with the Sam S. May Commitment to Service Award for its leadership of The University of Alabama 2012 No Flu Zone Campaign. 

Bonner stated, “Members of the No Flu Zone Campaign made the vaccine easier and more convenient to get by locating teams across campus. Seven-thousand vaccines were given, which contributed greatly to stopping an outbreak of flu on our campus. Thank you for all that you do to keep our campus healthy.”

According to Bonner, the Sam S. May Commitment Award recognizes individuals and groups on campus who provide exceptional service to the UA community and “is named for a remarkable staff member in the Department of Chemistry who tutored generations of students.”

From 1911-1941, May served as a custodian in the chemistry department and learned chemistry from instructors during his lunch hour. He later tutored students and helped in research projects. May was presented an award for his service to students and faculty, and he is listed in The University of Alabama’s Pictorial History.

Members of the College’s Flu Blast Team were recognized publicly at the meeting at Bryant Conference Center on November 13. The College’s team members include: Elizabeth Cockrum, MD, professor of pediatrics; Lisa Kidd, University Medical Center administrative secretary; Denise Morrison, purchasing coordinator; Paige Sims, accounting secretary; David Brown, Student Health Center nursing supervisor; Bret Summerlin, clinical investigations research coordinator; Amelia de los Reyes, coordinator of telemedicine; and Nancy Battle, Student Health Center nurse.

Other members of the 2012 Flu Blast Team who were also recognized include: Marsha Adams, PhD, and Haley Strickland from the Capstone College of Nursing; Rebecca Kelly, PhD, director of UA’s Office of Health Promotion and Wellness; and John Kasberg of UA Financial Affairs.

The No Flu Zone Campaign was held in September and October of 2012 with a goal of vaccinating as many University faculty, staff and students as possible.

“Our goal is to knock on doors and to make this as easy and convenient as possible,” Cockrum said at the start of the campaign last year.

Nurses traveled from building to building, eventually visiting nearly every building on campus. They set up tents on the University’s Quadrangle and in faculty and staff parking lots and flu shots were offered before and after work hours. Additionally, nurses from the Student Health Center were available at the Ferguson Center and visited the University’s dormitories to provide flu shots to students.

Dean of the College, Richard Streiffer, MD, congratulated the College on the award stating, “Congratulations for this well-served recognition and thanks to the CCHS team for bringing this honor to our College!”


New Achiever Award goes to director of CRC

Greg Snodgrass, director of The University of Alabama Student Health Center’s Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC), was recognized by Texas Tech University with the New Achiever Award. 

Greg Snodgrass, director of the Student Health Center's Collegiate Recovery Community

Greg Snodgrass, director of the Student Health Center’s Collegiate Recovery Community

The award was presented at the 31st Annual Distinguished Awards celebration at Texas Tech’s College of Human Sciences last month.

The award is given to those who are identified as an emerging leader through professional achievements, contributions to his or her field and characteristics that indicate the likelihood of future leadership and success.

Margaret Garner, associate dean for Health Education and Outreach, interim executive director of the UA Student Health Center, and associate professor in Family Medicine at the College of Community Health Sciences said of Snodgrass, “In his short tenure here, he has developed the CRC into a strong program, one that is frequently called by other institutions wanting to develop their own program. From parent weekend to recovery conferences that bring in professionals and students from other areas to healthy contacts locally and beyond, Greg has positioned the CRC for success.”

Snodgrass was a recent speaker at the 30th Annual Golf Coast Conference on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and organized a conference with the Alabama Students About Service (ASAS) and the University of Alabama at Birmingham to educate students about addiction and recovery.

ASAS is a student organization of the CRC.

The UA Collegiate Recovery Community is modeled after that of Texas Tech. It is a program for students who have made a commitment to lead sober, healthy lives and has created a structured, healthy community where recovering students can thrive academically and socially while actively pursuing their recovery.

The CRC is a program of the UA Student Health Center which is operated by the College of Community Health Sciences.






College dietician tackles obesity in Alabama with conference

According to Alabama Health Officer Donald Williamson, MD, Alabama ranks fifth in the nation in obesity while high school students in Alabama rank first. In addition, 40 percent of Kindergartners are overweight and obese. Obesity Summit

Sheena Gregg, registered dietician and assistant director for Health Education and Prevention at The University of Alabama Student Health Center and president of the Alabama Obesity Task Force, coordinated a one-day summit in late October aimed at reducing obesity and creating a healthier environment to live, learn and play in Alabama communities. 

The Student Health Center is operated by the College of Community Health Sciences.

The summit, titled “Alabama’s Wellness RX: Healthy Families, Healthy Schools, Health Communities,” was held in Pelham, Ala. and was hosted by the Alabama Obesity Task Force and Alabama Action for Healthy Kids.

The Alabama Obesity Taskforce, a volunteer organization, used the event to launch its “Re-Think Your Drink” campaign, a year-long campaign focused on trying to get people to make healthy choices when they decide what to drink.

“Rethinking those liquid calories, just letting people know that small changes can make a big difference when it comes to healthier choices,” says Gregg.

Williamson says encouraging healthier choices and offering healthier options could be a quick fix to the problem of obesity, citing food machines and sweet tea as significant areas of opportunity in Alabama.

In addition to Williamson, featured speakers of the summit included: Stephenie B. Wallace, a board-certified adolescent medicine physician in Birmingham, Ala.; Robert Murray, MD, a Seattle, Wash.-based endocrinologist who focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid dysfunction, cholesterol problems and associated metabolic hormonal disorders; and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox.

The summit, open to school professionals, community and government leaders, health care providers, health professionals and concerned citizens, had approximately 200 in attendance, including several representatives from Tuscaloosa City and County Schools.    

“We are so very proud of [Gregg’s] leadership and the importance of this effort in the state of Alabama and our higher education campuses throughout Alabama,” said Margaret Garner, assistant dean for health education and outreach, interim executive director for the Student Health Center and associate professor of Family Medicine at the College of Community Health Sciences. “Her leadership has led to a very successful Twitter campaign directed at college students on healthy eating and activity tips.”

New Lab/X-Ray Director to start Dec. 2

Tina Conn, MT, will be joining the College of Community Health Sciences as director of Laboratory and Radiology Services in the College’s Lab and X-Ray Department. Conn was chosen after an extensive selection process that ended in late October. She will begin on December 2.

Conn is a certified medical technologist through the American Society for Clinical Pathology, the world’s largest professional membership organization for pathologists and laboratory professionals.

Currently, Conn serves as the administrative supervisor of the Core Lab in Northport Medical Center, which is part of the DCH Health System. She has more than 30 years of experience in various lab settings.

“She comes with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm,” says David Nichols, chief operating office for the College. “Tina was the unanimous choice of the College’s multi-disciplinary search committee.”

The Laboratory and Radiology Services director position became available in September after the retirement of Sherry Wedgeworth, who served as director of the College’s Lab and X-Ray Department for 25 years.

The department is a part of University Medical Center, a multi-specialty clinic that is operated by the College and serves The University of Alabama and the West Alabama community.

Flu shot campaign continues through November

Several October and November days at the University saw nurses from University Medical Center and Student Health Center—both operated by the College of Community Health Sciences—and from the Capstone College of Nursing setting up tents, holding signs and administering flu shots to students, faculty and staff. 130956_flu_vaccinations

The shots were free to the UA community as part of a University-wide effort led by the College to vaccinate faculty, staff and students against the flu. Stations were set up at different locations around campus, including the Quad and several residence halls, with the goal of making getting vaccinated as convenient as possible.

This was the second year the College led such an effort. The campaign started Sept. 10 and was originally slated to be completed at the end of October, but three additional flu shot locations were added to the schedule for November, including two tents on the Quad.

By the end of the campaign, more than 7,500 vaccinations were administered.

Beth Fuller, CRNP, nurse practitioner for University Medical Center, said establishing a presence at a variety of locations on campus helped promote the importance of getting vaccinated to the UA community.

“Making the vaccine readily accessible increases the number of faculty, staff and students who will be vaccinated and therefore will hopefully prevent the number of flu cases in our community,” Fuller said. “Flu prevention keeps the community healthier and working.”

Vaccinations will be offered to faculty, staff and students at University Medical Center’s Faculty-Staff Clinic and the Student Health Center for free while supplies last.


Sunshine School Health Fair educates students, community about healthy habits

A crowd of about 200 students from Kindergarten to twelfth grade made its way into a school gym in rural Newbern, Ala. The students wandered with their friends to displays at about 15 or so tables set up along the gym walls. They planted spinach seeds in decomposable pots of soil at one table, had jump rope contests at another and marveled at the amount of sugar in a single Pop Tart at another. 

Sunshine Health Fair

A UA nursing student checks the blood pressure of a student at the Sunshine School Health Fair in Newbern, Ala. on Sept 27.

In between the activities, they had their glucose levels tested, their body mass indexes measured and their blood pressure checked.

This was all part of the first health fair hosted on Sept. 27 by the Sunshine School in Newbern, which is located in the Black Belt region of Alabama.  The event was open to students, parents and the surrounding community as part of a nearly $900,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop and support collaborative research between academic researchers and residents of Alabama communities disproportionately impacted by poor health.

The grant project, “UNITED: Using New Interventions Together to Eliminate Disparities,” or Project UNITED, is a partnership of The University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences and the College of Communication and Information Sciences and the Black Belt Community Foundation. The grant was funded by the Community Based Participatory Research Initiative of the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, an institute of the National Institutes of Health.

The three-year planning grant is focused on reducing obesity in rural Alabama through community-based participatory research. The Sunshine School was one of the sites chosen by the Project’s community advisory board for a pilot study, said John C. Higginbotham, PhD, associate dean for Research and Health Policy for the College of Community Health Sciences,  director of the College’s Institute of Rural Health Research and one of the grant’s principal investigators.

The other principal investigators are  Kim Bissell, PhD, associate dean for research for the College of Communication and Information Sciences and director of the Institute for Communication and Information Research, and Felecia Jones, MBA, executive director of the Black Belt Community Foundation.

As part of the partnership, the school came up with a list of ways Project UNITED could help, including the organization of a health fair, which Principal Charla Jordan said was a success in educating both students and the community about health.

“As a kid, you hear about issues like high blood pressure and associate that with adults,” she said. “But here they are learning and realizing that these things are possible with young kids as well.”

College faculty, physicians from the area, medical students at the College of Community Health Sciences and students and faculty from the University’s Capstone College of Nursing were in attendance to help with the screenings. They said that from their observations, the health fair served its purpose.

Michele Montgomery, PhD, RN, assistant professor at  the Capstone College of Nursing, said she screened children who had elevated blood pressure and needed to be referred to a physician. For this reason alone, Montgomery said the health fair was a benefit to the children.

“You don’t know if they are getting a regular health checkup,” she said. “Like these kids (with elevated blood pressure)—they may not have noticed otherwise if not getting a physical. Health behaviors they develop now—like healthy eating and exercise—will help them later in life.”

Eunice Briggins, a mother of three who currently attend the school and two who have already graduated, said she came for her health screening to support the school, and she’s glad she did.

“I now know I need to cut down on my salt intake with my girls and me to lower my blood pressure,” she said, as she turned to her daughter beside her. “Did you know you’re only supposed to eat one Pop Tart out of the package?” she asked with a laugh.

Briggins said she’s glad the health fair was held because she says it’s a way to keep students and families healthy.

“That’s especially if they aren’t going out to get checked,” she said. “Some people don’t have transportation.” 

Project UNITED also plans to work with Druid City Garden Project, a Tuscaloosa-based organization that uses school gardens and educational programs to help communities establish healthy eating habits and reduce obesity, to plant a garden at the Sunshine School. The organization was present at the health fair with its spinach seed-planting activity.

Project UNITED will also organize workshops to enhance research knowledge and skills of community members and university faculty as it relates to community-based participatory research. 

Higginbotham said that community-based participatory research component was a key part of the health fair as well as the screenings and education, so data were collected from students with parental consent and child assent and anyone from the community who consented.

“One of the things [the Sunshine School] wanted to do was not only see where their kids stood with regard to a lot of health indicators, but they wanted to expand that beyond their students to parents and the community as a whole,” Higginbotham said. “The school wanted to have a role in improving the health of their whole community.”

College partners with nursing on nearly $1M grant to address multiple chronic conditions patients

University of Alabama students are learning the value behind the “two heads are better than one” concept when addressing the health care needs of rural communities.

The Capstone College of Nursing received a $997,173 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement a collaborative team-based approach to working with patients who have multiple chronic conditions.

Chronic conditions are conditions that last a year or more and require ongoing medical attention. They include both physical conditions – arthritis, cancer, HIV infection – as well as mental and cognitive disorders, such as ongoing depression, substance addition and dementia. Multiple chronic conditions are two or more chronic conditions that affect a person at the same time.

“People are living longer, but they are getting sicker earlier,” said Dr. Leigh Ann Chandler Poole, assistant professor in nursing and coordinator of the Nurse Practitioner Concentration in Mental Health and Primary Care for Rural Populations. “What we’re doing is not working, so we’re moving to models that use interprofessional teams to provide quality patient-centered care.”

The primary component of the three-year grant is the development of interprofessional grand round teams. These teams will be comprised of graduate-level students from the College of Community Health Sciences, the School of Social Work and the Nutrition Department, as well as nurse practitioner students in the Capstone College of Nursing, who will be taking lead on this project.

Each nurse practitioner student will be assigned patients, from rural areas, who have multiple chronic conditions, and they will follow those patients for up to a year. Nurse practitioner students will meet with their patients, do the initial workup and then present the patient to the interprofessional grand round team via telemedicine.

The team will meet on a weekly basis to come up with a plan on how to improve the patient’s quality of life and decrease problems associated with the multiple chronic conditions. That plan will then be presented to the patient’s primary care provider who will ultimately decide whether or not to implement the recommendations made by the team.

“This incorporates all disciplines, working together as a team and learning from each other and from the patient to develop best evidenced-based practice plans for the patient,” Poole said. “The patient needs to be part of the process in deciding what will work for them. The providers need to know their patient and their motivations and determine how we can best help the patient achieve their health-related goals.”

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, multiple chronic conditions are associated with substantial health care costs in the United States. Approximately 66 percent of the total health care spending is associated with care for over one in four Americans with multiple chronic conditions.

With the Affordable Care Act, health care providers have to prove what they’re doing works in order to get reimbursed, Poole said. For instance, if someone with congestive heart failure is readmitted to the hospital within 30 days, the hospital will not be reimbursed. But they still have to provide the care.

“We hope to provide quality team-oriented care, and find evidence that this process works in improving the patient’s quality of life and health status and, at the same time, decreases the financial burden associated with multiple chronic conditions,” Poole said.