‘Tha’ Hip Hop Doc’ speaks at African American Male Health Career Forum

The College of Community Health Sciences’ first ever African American Male Health Career Forum was held on Saturday, Jan. 18, in an effort to address the minority physician shortage in Alabama.

The event, which was hosted by the College and it’s Institute for Rural Health Research, was geared specifically for African-American male high school students.

One hundred students from various West Alabama high schools (including those from rural communities and Tuscaloosa city and county schools) were invited to participate in the forum, which was held in the Ferguson Theater on The University of Alabama campus and featured keynote speaker Rani G. Whitfield, MD, a family medicine physician otherwise known as ‘Tha’ Hip Hop Doc.

The focus of the day was not only on the shortage of African American physicians in Alabama and across the United States, but also the shortage of male African American physicians.

Only 7.3 percent of the U.S. medical school applicants in 2011 were black, and of that number, 34.9 percent were male, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. In 2012, only 5 percent of direct care physicians in the United States were black.

There were a few reasons Pamela Payne-Foster, MD, MPH, coordinator of the event, posed in her opening talk of the day-long forum. One was the amount of debt accumulated in medical school. Another was the amount of time spent in school before being able to make money, which would make professions in other fields look more attractive to young African-American males.

“These students don’t always know that there are other options available in health care,” said Payne-Foster, deputy director for the Institute for Rural Health Research  and associate  professor in the College’s Department of Community and Rural Medicine.

After Foster’s opening talk, Whitfield took the stage, talking about his path to medical school and his profession as a hip hop artist and a family medicine physician. He spoke about “The Pact,” a book written by three African-American physicians—Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt—who grew up in Newark, N.J., faced with struggles and temptations. They made a promise to each other that they would become doctors, and they were able to by joining forces and holding each other accountable, Whitfield said.

The students later broke into groups to further discuss the book and work with mentors in health care fields.

“Your success is really up to you,” Whitfield said. “Dedication, determination and discipline: If you are struggling in a class, struggling in school—there are people who can help you. You have to make a decision about your life.”

Whitfield, whose home and practice are in Baton Rouge, La., is known for his appearances on CNN, BET’s “106th Park,” iVillage and other national talk and news shows.

He released in 2008 “Tha’ Hip Hop Doc Presents: State of Emergency,” a health education music CD, and the comic book series, “Tha’ Hip Hop Doc Presents: The Legion of Health” in order to educate youth about healthy lifestyles and habits. He founded the Hip Hop Health Coalition, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote healthy living to youth groups.

Payne-Foster said that because the mission of the College emphasizes rural communities, much of the focus of the Rural Health Leaders Pipeline programs has been predicated on focusing on rural youth to encourage them to go to medical school, working with them through graduation and encouraging them to return back to their hometowns or a similar place in rural Alabama to practice.

“However we have been struggling with getting minority students into this model as well as recruitment of our students into some Black Belt counties,” Payne-Foster said.  “We are experimenting with expanding our own model to include minority students from underserved urban communities to consider working in underserved rural communities. This expands the model into preparing medical students of varied backgrounds to serve in any community in Alabama.”

It is important to educate students about career possibilities in health care professions at an early point of their academic career, Payne-Foster said.

“Studies show that the earlier you introduce students to the medical field, the better prepared they will be in successfully completing the course of study,” Payne-Foster said. “In fact, high school is kind of late. Starting even earlier, like around middle school, is even better.”

Business development director joins College

Amy Rogers, MHA, FACHE, has joined the College as director of Business Development, a position recently created by the College to grow, expand and extend the footprint of its clinical enterprise. 

Amy Rogers, MHA, FACHE

Amy Rogers, MHA, FACHE

Rogers comes to the College from Nemours, the largest pediatric practice in the United States, where she served for nine years as associate administrator. In that role, Rogers managed and coordinated all hospital ancillaries and social services at A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del.

Although the Nemours system boasts more than $1.25 billion in patient revenue, 4,000 employees and physician practices in five states, A.I DuPont Hospital for Children is the only hospital in the system.  

Rogers’ strategic leadership experience includes developing, implementing and assimilating organizational strategy. She is passionate about family-centered care and ensuring that patient and family satisfaction is at the forefront.   

Rogers received her undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., and a Master’s Degree in Hospital and Health Administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“We are excited to have someone with Amy’s background as part of our team,” says David Nichols, Chief Operating Officer at the College. “She brings a breadth and depth of experience we can utilize to build on the strengths of the College as we look to transform the clinical enterprise.”

As director of Business Development, Rogers will be responsible for developing strategic business plans and overseeing a best practices-based services program that strengthens the building of strategic clinical initiatives within the College. She will serve as the primary contact for business development at the College and build relationships with community physicians, particularly those in rural Alabama, to encourage and cultivate an extensive network of family physicians throughout the state.

The College’s clinical enterprise includes the University’s Student Health Center and University Medical Center, a multi-specialty clinic open to University faculty and staff and the West Alabama community. Additionally, the College provides medical training for resident physicians in its Family Medicine Residency and for a portion of University of Alabama School of Medicine students in their third and fourth years of medical school.


Educated Guesses 2014

For the 33rd consecutive year, faculty experts at The University of Alabama offer predictions for the coming year. While these “educated guesses” don’t always come true, the track record over the years has been good. 

James Robinson, MD, endowed chair of sports medicine at the College of Community Health Sciences, Sheena Quizon Gregg, MS, RD, LD, assistant director of health education and prevention and dietician at the Student Health Center, and Lea Yerby, MD, an assistant professor in the College’s Department of Community and Rural Medicine, share their predictions on federal legislation for sports concussions, diet trends and the impact of health reform on physician shortages for 2014.

Sports Concussions to Prompt Federal Legislation
Concerns over children suffering concussions while playing sports, particularly football, will prompt federal legislation in 2014, a University of Alabama expert predicts. Laws to prevent children from returning to a game or practice after showing signs of concussion already exist in 49 of 50 states, and the federal government soon will try to unify those rules, says Dr. James Robinson, endowed chair of sports medicine in UA’s College of Community Health Sciences. “If children show signs of a concussion, they should not go back into practice or a game until they’re cleared by a medical professional,” Robinson says. Robinson notes that most experts recommend limiting hitting in football practice for young athletes to two days a week, out of concern for children’s maturing brains, particularly among those younger than 13 or 14.

Plant-Based Diet Trends to Strengthen
Next year will prove to be another year of trendy eating that avoids certain food groups in aims of better health, says one University of Alabama registered dietitian. The Paleo diet will continue to be popular, but a large focus of 2014 will center on plant-based diets that are gluten-free and non-GMO, says Sheena Quizon Gregg, assistant director of health education and prevention for Health Promotion and Wellness at UA. Food manufacturers will pick up on this trend and provide anything from almond-based yogurts to meat-free barbecue options. This “natural” focus will also include food products made with natural, low calorie sweeteners versus their artificial counterparts, aspartame, saccharin and sucralose. “But don’t worry,” Gregg says. “These new plant-based diet trends will not affect the bacon industry.” 

Health Reform-Exacerbated Physician Shortages Milder in Alabama than Elsewhere
Rural Alabamians may not be as impacted by primary care physician shortages in 2014 as other medically-underserved states dealing with the impact of health reform, says Dr. Lea Yerby, a University of Alabama rural medicine expert. Yerby, an assistant professor in UA’s College of Community Health Sciences’ department of community and rural medicine, says the population of people newly insured under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will exacerbate the state’s primary care physician shortage; however, this stress may not be as dramatic in Alabama as in other areas. Since the state is not expanding Medicaid Enrollment, a large portion of uninsured Alabamians will not have options for insurance coverage and, therefore, will not be seeking a new primary care home.  Economically, more residents in rural Alabama will qualify for tax subsidies to purchase insurance in the state marketplace given their lower median income. Nationally, utilizing mid-level or non-physician providers will address the workforce shortage, but legislative changes would be required to facilitate this in Alabama, and that will not happen for a few more years, she says.

Read the complete article here for more faculty expert predictions.

Rural Health Conference to focus on early childhood development

The date has been set and the topic has been selected for the 15th annual Rural Health Conference, which is hosted by the College of Community Health Sciences’s Institute for Rural Health Research.  Postcard_122013_Page_1

This year’s conference, titled “Healthy Beginnings, Healthy Communities: The Early Childhood Experience,” will be held on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, at the Bryant Conference Center on The University of Alabama campus.

The focus is on rural communities and early childhood development, which starts at birth and continues to 5 years old.

The conference will feature various speakers, presentations and breakout sessions surrounding the topic.

Lea Yerby, PhD, coordinator for the conference and an assistant professor in the Department of Community and Rural Medicine and the Institute for Rural Health Research, says the early childhood window has the most significant long-term impact on health status.

“Since our rural areas have high rates of children living in poverty and in medically underserved areas, young children in rural Alabama are not on equal footing with the rest of the nation and have less opportunity to grow into healthy adults,” Yerby says. “Furthermore, the health of a community’s children is a key indicator of the overall health of a community.”

Health care professionals, community leaders, researchers, government officials and policy makers interested in making an impact in rural communities typically attend the conference.

Additional information is available on the conference’s website: rhc.ua.edu.

APA recognizes College psychiatrist for dedication

The American Psychiatric Association recently announced the addition of a Tuscaloosa psychiatrist for her dedication to the profession of psychiatry by receiving the distinction of Distinguished Fellow. Susan P. Arnold, MD, will be formally recognized during a ceremony at the APA’s 167th Annual Meeting in New York on May 5, 2014. 

Susan Arnold, MD

Susan Arnold, MD

“Dr. Arnold has achieved distinction in special areas of psychiatry and possess depth of knowledge and breadth of skills that are recognized and highly respected,” said APPA Executive Director Jennifer Hancock. “As we look toward the new year, more psychiatrists should pause to evaluate their career. Carrying these marks of distinction not only elevates the professional, but it also elevates the profession itself.”

The distinction of Distinguished Fellow is awarded to outstanding board-certified psychiatrists who have made significant contributions to the psychiatric profession in at least five of the following areas: administration, teaching, scientific and scholarly publications, volunteering in mental health and medical activities of social significance, community involvement as well as for clinical excellence. It is the highest membership honor the APA bestows upon members.

Arnold is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences and also practices at the College’s Betty Shirley Clinic. She also serves as director of Student Mental Health.

Arnold received her medical degree from the University of Alabama School of Medicine. She completed residency training and a fellowship in child/adolescent psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina. Arnold is board certified in adult and child/adolescent psychiatry. Her interests include the prevention and treatment of disorders that present in the college student population and traumatic stress.

Last year, Marissa Giggie, MD, an assistant professor in the College’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine who also practices at the Betty Shirley Clinic, received the status of Fellow. J.E. Keeton, MD, an adjunct faculty member in the department, received the status of Distinguished Fellow. Giggie and Keeton were formally recognized at the APA’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco in May 2013.

The Alabama Psychiatric Physicians Association is a district branch of the American Psychiatric Association and is the only association representing psychiatrists in the State of Alabama. APPA promotes professional values and ethics in the practice of psychiatry, supports improving patient access to quality mental health care, encourages an environment of lifelong learning and professional development, and counsels on education and advocacy for the profession, patients and their families.


College participates in Tuscaloosa Adopt-a-School program

The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences has partnered with Tuscaloosa Magnet School – Middle to help encourage healthy eating, healthy choices and healthy body image in students by leading a nutrition club at the school. 

Sheena Gregg, RD,LD,  teaches healthy body image to students at Tuscaloosa Magnet School - Middle.

Students at Tuscaloosa Magnet School – Middle are taught about healthy body image as part of the Tuscaloosa Adopt-a-School program.

The partnership is the result of the Tuscaloosa Adopt-a-School program, a program of the Tuscaloosa Chamber of Commerce that  encourages education,  business and private sectors of Tuscaloosa County to work together to strengthen, enhance and enrich the quality of education in the Tuscaloosa City and County School systems.

Sheena Gregg, RD, LD, a dietician and assistant director of Health Education and Prevention at the College, led a group of 10 students in six weekly meetings throughout the fall semester.

She taught the students about healthy eating by engaging the students in various food tastings ranging from dried fruit and fruit juices to soy and almond milk. The students were taught how to flavor water with fresh fruits during a lesson on the importance of hydration. Also, students participated in activities about body image and self-esteem as well as a nutrition jeopardy competition.

“Nutrition education teaches students how food affects our overall health as well as our performance academically and physically,” Gregg says. “Middle school is a crucial time for students to learn habits that will carry on into their adulthood as well as provide positive influence among their peers and family.”

Gregg plans to lead the school’s Nutrition Club again in the spring semester.

The College operates the University’s Student Health Center and University Medical Center, a multi-specialty clinic open to University faculty and staff and the West Alabama community. In addition, the College provides medical training for resident physicians in its Family Medicine Residency and for a portion of University of Alabama School of Medicine students in their third and fourth years of medical school.


College welcomes new faculty in Pediatrics


Brian Gannon, MD

Brian Gannon, MD, was recently welcomed to the College as an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics. 

Gannon joins the College with several years of experience in pediatrics. He practiced general pediatrics in Murfreesboro, Tenn. for eight years before moving to Owensboro, Ky., where he spent another six years in private practice. 

Gannon’s special interests include adoption, ADHD, multiple births and children with developmental delays.

He completed his undergraduate education at Vanderbilt University before attending medical school at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine. Gannon went on to complete three years of residency training in pediatrics at Saint Louis University’s Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.

“We are very glad to have Dr. Gannon on board,” says Karen Burgess, associate professor and chair of the College’s Department of Pediatrics.

Gannon and his wife, Michele, are active in the foster care community as foster care parents and advocates, particularly to children who are medically fragile. Currently, they are parents to eight children.



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!”