UA-Pickens County Partnership project focuses on well-being of children and families

Pickens County Head Start, in collaboration with The University of Alabama-Pickens County Partnership, implemented a program during 2016-2017 school year to promote child and family well-being.

The program, Power PATH, provides classroom and parent programs to promote social and emotional well-being in Head Start preschoolers and their caregivers.

Preschool teachers in six classrooms at Pickens County Head Start were trained to implement the Preschool PATHS Social Emotional Learning Program. The program provides a framework and weekly lesson plans designed to teach children such life skills as emotional and behavioral self-regulation, friendship and social skills, and how to solve problems with others in a calm, caring way. Head Start staff members were also trained to implement a corresponding parent program that teaches parents how to encourage children’s use of these skills at home.

By the end of the current school year, Pickens County Head Start teachers and staff will have the resources and training needed to continue to implement the Power PATH classroom and parent programs long-term. The program is being evaluated to assess its impact on children, families and Head Start personnel.

The project is one of a number of pilot grants funded by the UA-Pickens County Partnership. As part of the project, Cynthia Simpson, executive director of Pickens County Community Action Committee and Community Development Corporation Inc. is partnering with UA faculty: Dr. Caroline Boxmeyer, an associate professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine with UA’s College of Community Health Sciences; Dr. Ansley Gilpin, an associate professor of Psychology; and Dr. Jason DeCaro, an associate Professor of Anthropology.

The UA-Pickens County Partnership works to place UA students in medicine, nursing, social work, nutrition, psychology and health education – and potentially other fields – in Pickens County for internships and experiences. Through the partnership, the rural, underserved county is provided with additional health resources, and UA students receive real world training in their respective areas of study.

Courtney’s Final Blog Post

As my time as a UA-Pickens County Fellow comes to a close, I wanted to reflect on my experiences in the county over the last year. In July, I will start medical school, which will fulfill a dream that I have had since I was 7 years old. Though I have always known that I want to be a doctor, I have never been able to definitively say what field of medicine I want to pursue. After this last year working with the county, I am definitely closer to figuring that out; however, I’ve also learned something even more important this year: there is nothing more fulfilling or important to me than serving the underserved. After working in Pickens County, I now believe that the future of healthcare is outside of the hospital and in the heart of the community. As such, I anticipate a future career serving alongside community leaders, aiming to improve healthcare delivery so that all residents have access to quality health care, regardless of their social or economic status.

In the last year, I have taught nutrition education to high school and elementary students across Pickens County. On my very first day, I remember Dean Streiffer saying something that I will keep in mind forever: the word “doctor” actually means “teacher.” Although that initial connection may be hard to make, I have learned that the best doctors are really just outstanding teachers that dedicate their lives to teaching health. One of the best doctors I’ve ever met was an orthopedic surgeon I met when I was in high school. What makes him stand out in my memory was his willingness to teach me on a level that I would be able to understand as a 15-year-old.  Whether it was drawing a diagram of the ligaments in my knee on the paper lining the exam table, or explaining biologically why my knee was swollen, I learned from him.

This last year has taught me that education drives change and that the importance of a quality health education cannot be overstated; in the future, I envision a career in academic medicine in which I will be able to combine my passion for research with caring for patients and teaching, which has been one of the most genuinely fulfilling experiences I have had in Pickens County.

As evidenced by the recent addition of sociology and psychology on the MCAT and the evolving requirements for admission into medical school, medicine is becoming a more holistic field. Physicians are learning to treat “health” in a much broader sense. Witnessing the social determinants of health firsthand this year in Pickens County will undoubtedly make me a better physician in the future. As someone who has a background in the natural sciences, it was initially challenging for me to understand how things that are not biological in nature can have such a profound impact on physiological processes within our bodies; after spending a year away from the microscope and interacting with the people of Pickens County, I can definitively say that is no longer the case and my understanding of this will guide my medical practice in the future.

I am thankful that I was in Pickens County to witness the development of this project, and I anxiously await a reunion in which I can meet the people from Gordo to Carrollton—and every mile of Highway 86 in between—that have been impacted by the work of this partnership.

Thank you, Pickens County, for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Health fair provides information, free health screenings

The University of Alabama-Pickens County Partnership hosted a health fair earlier this month at the Pickens County Medical Center Healthplex in Carrollton, Alabama, to provide information about health care resources in the community.

There were also free health screenings available for blood pressure, weight and cholesterol, and people had the opportunity to review their results with a health coach, who also provided advice about how to better manage various health issues. The screenings were provided by the UA Capstone College of Nursing faculty and nursing students.

“This fair is a good example of the excellent resources available in a rural community,” said Dr. Richard Streiffer, dean of the College of Community Health Sciences, which leads the UA-Pickens County Partnership.

Streiffer said educating rural residents is vital to the existence of health care facilities like Pickens County Medical Center, which, like many rural hospitals, has faced tough economic times. “Without being able to serve people, hospitals like this and the facilities and services it has to offer are going to close and the access to health care for rural counties will be even worse.”

The UA-Pickens County Partnership works to place UA students in medicine, nursing, social work, nutrition, psychology and health education – and potentially other fields – in Pickens County for internships and experiences. Through the partnership, the rural, underserved county is provided with additional health resources, and UA students receive real world training in their respective areas of study.

“Having students in the county is beneficial for Pickens County,” said Wilamena Daily, partnership coordinator. “When you have those extra hands, it brings more resources.”

UA CCHS holds rural health fair in Pickens County

News clips from WBRC, WVUA, and WVTM covering the 2017 Pickens County Health Fair.

WBRC Clip:

 

WVUA Clip:

 

WVTM Clip:

UA partnering with Pickens County to host health fair

The University of Alabama-Pickens County Partnership is partnering with Pickens County Medical Center to host a health fair Thursday, April 6, from 10 am to 2 pm.

The health fair will be held at the Pickens County Medical Center HealthPlex, located at 241 Robert K. Wilson Drive in Carrollton, Ala.

The fair will include free health screenings for blood pressure, weight and cholesterol. Participants can also have their screening results individually reviewed and explained by a health coach, who can also provide advice about how to better manage various health issues. The screenings will be provided by The University of Alabama Capstone College of Nursing faculty and nursing students.

The UA-Pickens County Partnership, which is led by UA’s College of Community Health Sciences, works to place UA students in medicine, nursing, social work, nutrition, psychology and health education – and potentially others – in Pickens County for internships and experiences. Through the partnership, the rural, underserved county is provided with additional health resources, and UA students receive real world training in their respective areas of study.

The health fair will also include speakers, hospital tours, gardening tips, food, giveaways and more. For information, contact Wilamena Daily, project coordinator for the UA-Pickens County Partnership, at wshopkins@ua.edu.

PCH: Cooking healthier a goal of UA partnership student

Pickens County Herald: Cooking healthier a goal of UA partnership student

March 8, 2017 – Courtney Rentas, a Fellow with The University of Alabama-Pickens County Partnership, is teaching a nutritional cooking class to freshmen at Aliceville High School this semester.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of high school students in Alabama are obese compared with 14 percent nationally. Rentas hopes that teaching high school students basic nutrition and elementary cooking skills will lower the rate of obesity in Pickens County in the future.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of high school students in Alabama are obese compared with 14 percent nationally. Rentas hopes that teaching high school students basic nutrition and elementary cooking skills will lower the rate of obesity in Pickens County in the future.

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Pickens County high school students visit College

Two dozen Pickens County high school students interested in health careers visited the College as part of a program of The University of Alabama-Pickens County Partnership.

The students are members of Exploring Professional Opportunities (EXPO), a program for sophomore and junior high school students to learn about career opportunities, scholarships and college life.

The UA-Pickens County Partnership, which is led by CCHS, works to place UA students in medicine, nursing, social work, nutrition, psychology and health education – and potentially others – in Pickens County for internships and other experiences. The rural county is provided with additional health resources, and UA students receive real world training in their respective areas of study.

Patti Pressley-Fuller, Pickens County Cooperative Extension Coordinator and a member of the partnership’s Advisory Committee, said EXPO gives students “an opportunity to open their minds to careers, a bigger world and a brighter future.”

During their time at the College, the students heard from Dr. Dan Avery, director of medical student admissions. Avery said the most frequent question he gets from students is how can they pay for medical school? “Don’t let that be an impediment. There are scholarships, grants, all kinds of things that are available,” he said. “We desperately need primary care physicians in this state and in this country, and the most likely people to practice in rural and underserved areas are people who grew up there.”

The College, which also functions as a regional campus of the University of Alabama School of Medicine, educates and trains medical students and resident physicians, with a focus on primary care.

The students asked Avery what undergraduate degrees help students get into medical school. “Make sure you get the required courses in biology and chemistry, but medical schools want students who are well rounded,” he said. “Medicine is problem solving.”

He said communications skills are essential. “Doctors have to talk to patients long enough, and they have to listen.”

Shawn McDaniel, a Pickens County high school teacher who accompanied the students, added that “people skills and communication are a big thing. Young people can text, but face-to-face communication is harder. But you have to be able to do that because as a doctor you’re taking care of people.”

In addition to visiting the College and touring its University Medical Center, the students observed a mock hospital simulation at UA’s Capstone College of Nursing, visited UA biology laboratories, heard a presentation from the director of UA’s Early College program, ate lunch at a dormitory cafeteria and received a tour of Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Meeting the Fellows: Judson

Before I began working in Pickens County, I had little experience with agriculture-based communities. I was even less familiar with the seemingly paradoxical association of those communities with food deserts. According to the USDA, a food desert is an area lacking healthy food options or where unhealthy food options are more accessible than healthy options. While working in Pickens County, I began to understand more about the wide variety of factors that impact health, especially when it comes to access to healthy food and health care.

I saw firsthand the importance of the biopsychosocial model of health, which uses interactions between biological, psychological, and social factors to determine health status, in rural communities.  My personal experiences, coupled with the success I saw with the Druid City Garden Project in Tuscaloosa, AL, led me to choose gardening as the focus for my work in Pickens County. I began by working with the 4H organization in Gordo, AL, an after-school educational and extracurricular activity for kids aged 9-14 that was already in place. I installed raised-bed gardens and taught about gardening, nutrition, and sustainability twice a week. Sometimes I felt as though I was learning just as much, if not more, as the kids I taught. While the kids in the organization learned about healthy foods and being outdoors, I learned how to impact kids on a level that they understand and can be excited about. The most important lesson I have learned so far—one that applies to gardening and medicine–is the value of patience.

I have also learned more about social responsibility, something crucial in a small community. My class decided to donate our harvest to the food pantry across the street to give back to the underserved community. The initiative and enthusiasm I have seen in the kids I work with has inspired me to expand this program to other parts of Pickens County. Other current and upcoming efforts include a community garden, a teaching garden at one of the local schools, and a therapy garden for a local senior center. I can’t wait to see what comes from this project!

Meeting the Fellows: Courtney

My name is Courtney and I am originally from a large suburb of Chicago called Naperville, Illinois. I graduated summa cum laude from The University of Alabama in May 2016 with a BS in biology and a BA in psychology. I will start medical school in the fall of 2017, though I haven’t yet decided where I will attend! During my undergraduate career at UA, I studied neurodegenerative disorders, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, under Dr. Kimberlee Caldwell. My research has been published, and I was named a Goldwater Scholar in 2015. Research is one of my truest passions, so I’m interested in a career in academic medicine. This career would allow me to serve my community as a physician, an educator and a medical researcher.

The project that I have been working on this year is nutrition education. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 35.7 percent of American adults are obese. In the state of Alabama, the percentage of obese adults is even higher than the national average, and the percentage of obese adults is still higher in Pickens County. In Pickens County, I am teaching basic nutrition education, like how to read and interpret a food label, to high schoolers and children aged 9-14. In addition to the nutrition education, my project has a cooking component in which I get to teach students how to prepare recipes that are easy, healthy and affordable.

We have made many different recipes over the last few months, but a favorite for the kids was the Caesar Pasta Salad. We prepared this recipe after I gave a lecture on carbohydrates. I try to make my lectures fun and engaging so that students retain and understand the relevance of the material. A few weeks ago, when we were talking about sugar, the high school students engaged in a debate on a soda tax that recently went into effect in California. I try to teach them things that will be useful when they’re at the store; one thing that many students were shocked to learn was that orange juice, which many people drink as a “healthy” alternative to soda, has nearly the same amount of sugar as soda does! They’ve learned that there is a direct correlation between sugar consumption and obesity, so hopefully they’ll rethink their drink choices when they’re in the cafeteria.

My time working with the UA-Pickens County Partnership has been the single-most transformative experience of my life. Working in Pickens County has been an unparalleled introduction to serving the medically underserved, which is something that I hope to do for the rest of my life. I have learned specifically that people lack the resources, not the willpower, to make healthy decisions and that is something that I will remember in my future career as a physician. I can now appreciate that the social determinants of health are just as important as the physiological determinants of health that we commonly associate with medicine, and that a person is so much more than their medical chart makes them out to be.

I am grateful for my time so far in Pickens County this year and I cannot wait for new students and more organizations to work with next semester!

UA-Pickens County Partnership

The partnership, now underway, is providing needed health resources to the rural county while UA students receive training and experience in their fields