CCHS pediatrician receives UA research award

Dr. Karen Burgess, associate professor and chair in the College’s Department of Pediatrics, was presented with The University of Alabama President’s Faculty Research Award for the College of Community Health Sciences on March 31 as part of UA’s Faculty Research Day.

Burgess was among 13 faculty members across campus to be recognized for excellence in research and/or scholarship in their fields. She and the other award winners were profiled at the event, sponsored by the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development and held at the Bryant Conference Center.

Karen Burgess from CIT Multimedia Services on Vimeo.

“We are a place for research, discovery and changing students’ lives,” said UA President Dr. Stuart Bell. “Research is good for The University of Alabama, the state and the country. I congratulate the recipients.”

Burgess’s research looks at ways to improve health outcomes of children in Alabama. Recently, she has focused on pediatric asthma. With funding from BlueCross and BlueShield of Alabama, she is conducting a school-based asthma education program via telemedicine for rural schools in Alabama.

“We partner telemedicine and schools, and we developed a curriculum to talk to students about asthma, inhalers and spacer techniques,” she said. “We’ve found that it’s (telemedicine) a successful way to communicate information to children who are suffering from a chronic condition.”

Burgess currently works with Greensboro Elementary School in Hale County and Ruhama Junior High in Fort Payne in DeKalb County. The schools were chosen because of their high rate of documented asthma cases. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 137,000 children in Alabama had asthma in 2007, a prevalence rate of 12.3 percent, which compares to the US rate of 9 percent.

Classes are offered weekly for the students and their parents to learn about asthma symptoms, medications and treatment. Each class meets a total of four times for 45 minutes. Part of the gift from BlueCross and Blue Shield was used to provide students at Ruhama Junior High School with asthma spacers (add-on devices for inhalers that allow for easier and more effective administration of medication). The hope is that students at Greensboro Elementary School will also be provided with spacers if they do not have them.

Burgess says parents of Ruhama Junior High School students have reported improved symptoms of asthma in their children. “My ultimate goal is to make people’s lives better,” she said.

Burgess plans to expand the project to develop telemedicine clinics in rural areas to improve access to health care for those populations.

Dr. David Franko, dean of UA’s Graduate School, was the keynote speaker at the awards presentation. He said faculty research and graduate education is linked, “and what emerges from this synergy is a vibrant knowledge economy.”

UA currently has 4,600 graduate students, 15 percent of the student body. The University has 6,500 graduate school alumni, and more than half live in Alabama. “Alabama is now a net importer of graduate talent,” Franko said.

Rural Health Conference to Focus on Integrative Medicine

Many people use a combination of conventional medicine and nonmainstream practices, like all-natural products or mind and body practices, for a whole person approach to their health care.

The 17th annual Rural Health Conference, hosted by the Institute for Rural Health Research at The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences, seeks to educate community members and health care providers in rural areas about how this works.

UA-county partnership seeks applications for health projects and fellowships

A University of Alabama and Pickens County, Ala., partnership working to provide health resources for the rural county and “real world” training for UA students is accepting proposals for health projects and applications for fellowships.

The University of Alabama/Pickens County Health Care Teaching County Partnership, of which the College of Community Health Sciences is a leading partner, recently received $600,000 from the Alabama Legislature to initiate the partnership. Once fully underway, the partnership will enable UA students in medicine, nursing, social work, nutrition, psychology, health education, health care management and elder law to gain practice experience from internships and other learning opportunities in Pickens County, and at the same time provide sustainable health resources for the county.

Currently, the partnership is seeking project proposals from UA faculty and/or Pickens County entities for health-related projects to be conducted in the county. Award amounts vary but will not exceed $25,000. Funds will be available May 1, and projects must start by the summer.

The partnership also is seeking recent UA graduates for one-year paid fellowships that provide an opportunity to serve in a health-related capacity in Pickens County. Fellows will spend time in community engagement and leadership development activities, which include seminars on health and public policy, as well as social determinants of health.

Pickens County is a Medically Underserved Area and a Primary Care, Mental Health and Dental Health Professional Shortage Area. The county ranks 41st in health outcomes among Alabama’s 67 counties. Other statistics show that 36 percent of adult residents are considered obese, one-third of the population lives below the poverty line and there are only nine primary care physicians per 10,000 residents.

Foster, AIDS group awarded grant from Elton John Foundation

Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster, deputy director of the College’s Institute for Rural Health Research, will work with an AIDS prevention group to pilot an innovative HIV/AIDS research project in Lowndes County, Ala.

The work is being funded with a $25,000 grant awarded to the AIDS Coalition of Alabama Project (ACAP) by the Elton John Foundation in New York City.

The project, “Working to Improve Sexual Education (Project WISE),” will focus on youths between the ages of 13 to 24 and, using a community-based approach, work to reduce the incidence rate of HIV/AIDS in the county. In its efforts, Project WISE will engage youth groups, parents, school officials and community leaders, and a community advisory board will be established to provide guidance to participants.

During three of the past five years, Lowndes County had the highest incidence rate of HIV/AIDS in Alabama. The impoverished, rural county in Alabama’s Black Belt region has a population of 11,299, with 74 percent African American and nearly a third living below the poverty line with a median income of $23,050, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

“We are targeting a population that is vastly underserved in addressing and preventing HIV/AIDS,” says Payne-Foster, also an associate professor in the College’s Department of Community and Rural Medicine.

Serving as principal investigators for Project WISE are Foster and Mel Prince, executive director of Selma Air in Selma, Ala., an AIDS services organization that serves rural African-American populations.

ACAP is a coalition of organizations and individuals who work to decrease and prevent HIV/AIDS in African Americans in Alabama. ACAP partners include: Selma Air; AframSouth Inc. in Montgomery; Alabama State University Center for Leadership and Public Policy in Montgomery; Aletheia House in Birmingham; Central Alabama AIDS Resource and Advocacy Center in Wetumpka; and Community Faith Partners in Huntsville.

UA’s Project FAITHH Conference Features Several HIV/AIDS Activists

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Five nationally known HIV/AIDS activists are featured speakers at The University of Alabama’s Project FAITHH conference in Montgomery.

The Ministers Dissemination Conference, which is sponsored by UA’s College of Community Health Sciences’ Project FAITHH, or Faith-based Anti-stigma Initiative Towards Healing HIV/AIDS, will be held 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, at Maggie Street Baptist Church in Montgomery.

Rural Medical Scholar studies church-based health promotion in Africa

Daniel Stanley, a Rural Medical Scholar and third-year medical student at the College of Community Health Sciences, spent most of September in Malawi, Africa, as part of a study on the effectiveness of church-based community health education and promotion.

Stanley, who is from Elmore County, Alabama, is studying the effectiveness of this type of health promotion as means of addressing health disparities in African-American communities in rural Alabama. He went to a rural area of Malawi to serve as a participant observer in a church-based health promotion program.

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

Stanley’s study is part of his required scholarly activity as a Rural Medical Scholar. He says he became interested in the topic during a family medicine rotation in Hale County.

“I really began to appreciate how the cultural perceptions of those living in rural west Alabama have molded their behavioral decisions, which has in some ways led to health disparities,” he says. “Another thing that I began to see was how this culture has led to a strong relationship between those living in such areas and the church. I began to consider how churches have served as a medium for health education and promotion.”

Because of his interest in mission-based, global health, Stanley looked for programs to observe abroad. Through the organization Community Health Evangelism, he was connected with a program in rural Lumbadzi, Malawi, that educates church leaders on health topics so that they can serve as health promoters in their faith community. Stanley says one of the main goals of the group was to address HIV misconceptions and provide education about testing and treatment.

“The program has been very successful in terms of addressing and correcting culturally-derived misconceptions about HIV,” he says. “There has been an increase in the number of people getting tested and seeking treatment in the villages where the program was introduced.”

Stanley also worked at a nearby hospital with its mobile clinic, visiting neighboring villages three times a week.

He says that while the medical issues he saw in Malawi were different from those in rural Alabama, he saw some common themes.

“There are some great similarities in that these are two marginalized populations with health disparities that can be reduced largely by behavioral modification,” he says.

Stanley says he hopes to share results of his study with local church leaders after completing his final report.


Faculty receives Fulbright grant to visit Morocco

Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster, deputy director of the College of Community Health Sciences’s Institute for Rural Health Research, is the recipient of a Fulbright Specialist Project grant to work at the Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech, Morocco, in May-June 2016.

Payne-Foster, who is also an associate professor in the College’s Department of Community and Rural Medicine, says she will be lecturing and meeting with the Cadi Ayyad University faculty to learn about the Moroccan healthcare system and contribute to its development. She will be working closely with the university’s vice dean for cooperation and research.

Payne-Foster was first placed on a Specialist Roster after applying for the Fulbright Specialist Project grant. Once on the list, Cadi Ayyad University invited Payne-Foster to the institution when its needs matched her career focus and past research on preventive medicine and public health.

The university noted one of Payne-Foster’s research studies examining the role that African-American churches and congregations can play in reducing HIV-AIDS related stigma in rural Alabama. She was the principal investigator of the $540,368 grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Payne-Foster says she worked closely with Beverly Hawk with the University of Alabama’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships in applying for the Fulbright.

“Although I am considered the expert and will be imparting knowledge based on my experiences, I hope to learn so much from the experience, including cultural and content areas, to assist me in being a better academician, including teaching, service and research,” she says.

Learning by Serving: First-year medical students get to know Tuscaloosa campus

About 40 first-year students at the University of Alabama School of Medicine spent a day getting acquainted with The University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences, which is where they will receive their third and fourth years of clinical education.

One of the College’s functions is serving as the Tuscaloosa Regional Campus for the School of Medicine, so students visited with faculty and current third- and fourth-year medical students, took tours of University Medical Center, which is a multi-specialty practice operated by the College and a clinical education site for the students, and participated in a morning of community service.

They worked with Druid City Garden Project (DCGP), a Tuscaloosa initiative focused on making local foods available to the community, to implement its Gardens 2 Schools program at Central Elementary in Tuscaloosa. With the program, elementary school students learn about nutrition, grow their own fruits and vegetables and get to taste what they’ve grown.

To help get the garden started at Central Elementary, the medical students spread across an auditorium equipped with power tools and built a wash station, benches for an outdoor classroom and a storage shed to house gardening tools.

 Joya Elmore, education coordinator for DCGP, works with each elementary schools to implement the gardens and teach them the curriculum.

“Our main goal is to grow food kids get to taste,” she says. “This is preventive medicine. Giving kids the opportunity to try produce they maybe never would have tried is huge.”

Groups were also sent one by one to University Place Elementary School, the first school that participated in Gardens 2 Schools, where Lindsay Turner, executive director of DCGP, explained how Gardens 2 Schools works: In the first year, DCGP works with the schools to build a garden and provides materials and training for teachers. In the second year, classroom teachers lead the garden lessons while DCGP provides support and lesson plans. And in the third year, the school takes over the program while DCGP provides support and any updated curriculum.

“We provide assistance that’s designed to be sustainable so that schools can operate the gardens for years to come,” Turner says. “Research shows it’s critical to tackle childhood obesity at an early age. As medical students, you’re familiar with issues that come with obesity—diabetes, hypertension, joint issues, heart disease, stroke. There’s a huge host of issues that is so fixable at an early age.”

She also talked about research completed by Dr. Caroline Boxmeyer, associate professor in the College’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, that examined the effects of Gardens 2 Schools on children’s plant knowledge, food choices, physical health and academic learning and engagement, which Boxmeyer expounded later at lunch with the medical students.

Her research found that students were scoring higher on their standardized test scores, were more likely to eat vegetables at every meal, were less likely to consume soda and candy, and had an overall lower body mass index of 6 percent.

After lunch, students received tours of University Medical Center, where they will learn under College faculty and residents from The University of Alabama Family Medicine Residency.

Dr. Heather Taylor, associate professor in Pediatrics and director of Medical Student Education, says it is important for medical students to learn the impact a partnership between medicine and the community can have on people’s health.

“We hope the experience inspires them to seek out these kind of opportunities throughout their medical careers and teaches them how rewarding these partnerships can be for both them and their patients.”


GUEST COLUMNIST: Taxes critical for rural health care

Friends, family and colleagues have asked about my views on proposals to raise taxes in order to keep up the services available to Alabama’s citizens. My first impulse is to believe that there is already plenty of money in Montgomery to cover all the bases.

I grew up around farms, and many of my family still farm, where we learned “to make do.” Also, I appreciate the favorable current use tax rate on several hundred acres of timberland. It is tempting to believe that there is enough money to go around.

Gardening While You Learn

As childhood obesity continues its upward trend nationally, schools and community organizations are partnering to find solutions. One such solution is the advent of school gardens to get students outside the classroom and into the great outdoors.

A psychologist with The University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences, however, wanted more than anecdotal evidence of the various programs’ success. Dr. Caroline Boxmeyer, associate professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, is seeking to determine exactly what kind of an impact these projects have on students, both from a health and educational perspective.