Keri Merschman honored with Excellence in Rural Health award

Each year the Institute for Rural Health Research in the College of Community Health Sciences honors one University of Alabama MS III or MS IV who demonstrates academic interest in rural medicine and is engaged in rural research and/or scholarly activity. This award is designed to encourage medical students to pursue activities in rural medicine. 

Medical students present at Larry Mayes Research Society Faculty & Student Dinner

Twice a year, medical students at the College of Community Health Sciences get the chance to present their research and scholarly activity to CCHS faculty at the Larry Mayes Research Society Faculty & Student Dinner.


Above: Chelsea Cernosek presents on sickle cell trait and wound healing / Below: Jamie Powell presents on DVD intervention to improve knowledge and reduce secondhand and thirdhand tobacco smoke exposure.

The most recent dinner was held Thursday, April 10, at Cypress Inn, and Jamie Powell and Chelsea Cernosek, both third-year medical students, presented.

Powell presented her research on using a DVD as intervention for parents and caregivers of children hospitalized for  respiratory illnesses to improve knowledge and reduce secondhand and thirdhand tobacco smoke exposure.  

Thirdhand tobacco smoke exposure is the residual smoke that remains on clothes, hands and hair after smoking. 

“This is a very low-cost type of intervention,” Powell said. She also said participants in her study demonstrated retention of knowledge and some reported a decrease in smoking.

Cernosek presented her scholarly activity on sickle cell trait and wound healing and the use of epinephrine in breast reduction procedures.

Heather Taylor, MD, assistant director of Medical Student Affairs, says these events give students a chance to practice formally presenting their research before giving oral presentations at conferences. Cernosek, for example, will present her research again in June at an international plastic surgery conference. 

“So this was a valuable opportunity for her to practice and see what kinds of questions she needs to prepare for,” Taylor says.

The overall goal of the dinner is to support and encourage student scholarly activity, says Taylor. The objective of the Larry Mayes Research Society is to expose medical students to research being conducted at The University of Alabama and encourage them to engage in research with the College and the University. 

“It gives the students and faculty a chance to hear about the projects our students have been working on and often stimulates ideas for future projects,” Taylor says.

Opening the event and introducing the speakers were Larry Mayes Research Society president and vice president Stevie Bennett and Jody Watson, respectively, third-year medical students who were elected to their positions earlier this year. 

This year, the society experienced a reorganization of structure, including regular student meetings to discuss and present research.

Early childhood health topic of Rural Health Conference

Early childhood health is the topic of the 15th Annual Rural Health Conference hosted by the College and its Institute for Rural Health Research.

The conference, “Healthy Beginnings, Healthy Communities: The Early Childhood Experience,” will be held Tuesday, April 29, 2013, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Bryant Conference Center on The University of Alabama campus.

Bernard Guyer, MD, MPH (left) and Allison de la Torre, MA, keynote speakers for the 15th Annual Rural Health Conference

Bernard Guyer, MD, MPH (left) and Allison de la Torre, MA, keynote speakers for the 15th Annual Rural Health Conference

The conference will feature two keynote speakers: Bernard Guyer, MD, MPH, the Zanvyl Kreiger Professor of Children’s Health, Emeritus, in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Allison de la Torre, MA, the executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alli­ance. Breakout sessions on issues related to the conference topic will also be offered.

Guyer is a graduate of Antioch College and the University of Rochester Medical School and trained in pediatrics and preventive medicine at the University of North Carolina and Harvard University. Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, Guyer was an associate professor of maternal and child health at Harvard School of Public Health.

He is a member of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and has chaired its Board on Children, Youth and Families, as well as IOM committees on Immunization Policies and the Poison Control System. He has also chaired the Maryland Commission on Infant Mortality.

Guyer’s areas of research include maternal and child health, low birth weight and infant mortality, child development, pediatric care, immunization, child health policy and urban health. He was the principal investigator of the National Evaluation of the Health Steps for Young Children Program and is the author of more than 300 published papers.

de la Torre works with stakeholders throughout Alabama to promote high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten as a top statewide priority. de la Torre has designed and im­plemented state-based pre-k policy initiatives and is connected to a national network of education leaders, children’s advocates, funders and experts.

Prior to joining ASRA, de la Torre served as state policy associate for Pre-K Now, a campaign of the Pew Center on the States, where she managed a $2.5 million annual grant-making portfolio to advance pre-k policy in more than 15 states across the country, including Alabama. As a result of Pre-K Now’s efforts over the past decade, state funding for pre-k more than doubled nationwide to $5.1 billion in FY2012; pre-k access increased from just 700,000 children in 2001 to more than one million today; dozens of states improved the quality of their pre-k programs; and six states and Washington, DC, opened their programs to all four year olds, bringing the total number of pre-k-for-all states to nine plus DC.

de la Torre has also served as legislative assistant to Oregon State Senator Vicki L. Walker, then-chair of the Senate Education and General Government Committee. Prior to her work for Senator Walker, she worked at the Children’s Institute, a leading pre-k advocacy organization in Oregon. de la Torre began her career as a pre-k assistant at La Mesa First United Methodist Church in her home town of San Diego, California.

The annual Rural Health Conference is attended by health-care providers, researchers, community leaders, government officials, policymakers and representatives of faith-based organizations who hear from prominent speakers in the field and share information and knowledge about rural health issues.

The registration fee for this year’s conference is $100 per person and $25 for students and includes breakfast and lunch. Continuing Education Units will be offered. (After April 16, the registration fee is $125 per person and $30 for students.)

For more information and to register online, visit the conference website at or contact the Institute for Rural Health Research at (205) 348-0025.

The Institute for Rural Health Research was established in 2001 and conducts research to improve health in rural Alabama. The goal is to produce research that is useful to communities, health care providers and policymakers as they work to improve the availability, accessibility and quality of health care in rural areas. The Institute also serves as a resource for community organizations, researchers and individuals working to improve the health of rural communities in Alabama.

Taylor champions early hearing screening

Heather Taylor, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics and assistant director of Medical Student Affairs at the College, is continuing five years of service as the Alabama Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Chapter Champion.110708_CCHS_headshots_day_3

A Chapter Champion is identified by each American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Chapter and is responsible for leading and responding to health care provider concerns regarding newborn hearing screening in the state. EHDI Chapter Champions are involved in working on EHDI programs and activities with their state department of human services, department of public health staff and other state government agencies, as well as pediatric health care providers in the state.

Chapter Champions seek opportunities for educating members of their respective chapters and others in the state on EHDI activities, and are also involved in collaborating with their peers to influence state policy and programs related to children who are identified with hearing loss.

Taylor serves as the chairperson of the Alabama Newborn Screening Advisory Committee in addition to her service as EHDI Chapter Champion. She received a grant for hearing screening education through the American Academy of Pediatrics and, as a result, initiated an outreach program in the Tuscaloosa community and surrounding counties to provide appropriate newborn hearing screening follow-up.

At University Medical Center, the College’s primary care practice serving the University of Alabama and West Alabama communities, Taylor is able to offer Automated Auditory Brainstem Response testing free of charge for her patients as well as others in the community. She has also contributed to the development of hospital guidelines to implement universal pulse oximetry screening in birthing facilities.

“The newborn screening program is grateful to Dr. Taylor for her service to promote optimal outcomes for Alabama’s babies,” the Alabama Department of Public Health said in its January newsletter. “She is an outstanding champion of the Alabama Newborn Screening Program.”

Larry Mayes Research Society elects new officers

The Larry Mayes Research Society (LMRS) has elected new  officers for the 2014-2015 academic year. Stevie Bennett and Jody Watson, currently third-year medical students of the University of Alabama School of Medicine, will serve as president and vice-president of the society for the upcoming year.130509_MW_medical_students

For the clinical training of a cohort  of third- and fourth-year medical students, the College of Community Health Sciences (CCHS) serves as a regional campus to the University of Alabama School of Medicine, which is headquartered in Birmingham.

This year, LMRS has experienced a reorganization of structure, including regular student meetings to discuss and present research. This new structure exposes medical students to research going on within the larger University of Alabama campus and encourages them to engage in research within CCHS and the University.

The Society has hosted one formal faculty dinner this year and the second formal dinner is currently being planned.  

CCHS Seeks Nominations for Rural Health Heroes

The University of Alabama Institute for Rural Health Research is seeking nominations for its 2014 Rural Health Heroes Awards. The awards honor rural health-care providers and others in Alabama who assist communities in preventing childhood diseases and illnesses.

College faculty, resident visit Cuba

Three faculty members from the College of Community Health Sciences and a resident physician from the College’s Family Medicine Residency traveled as part of a University of Alabama team to Cuba for six days in January 2014 to learn about that country’s healthcare system. Cuba Cropped

The group learned about the structure of the Cuban healthcare system and how it delivers care, particularly at the community level; established relationships with the Cuban Health Ministry and Medical Science University; and explored the development of a “pipeline” with the Latin American Medical School in Havana. Such a pipeline would assist medical students in Havana to make summer visits to UA and the College and graduates to consider the College’s Family Medicine Residency. The pipeline could also offer the Latin American Medical School in Havana as a medical school option for Alabama students, perhaps those from underserved and Black Belt communities.

“The Cubans have systematically built a rational, resource-frugal, yet effective healthcare system that ranks just below the United States in the World Health Organization rankings despite drastic differences in resources, infrastructure and philosophy,” says College Dean Richard Streiffer, MD, who participated in the Cuba trip.

He says like the mission of the College, the Cuban healthcare system is based on the family medicine-nurse team and neighborhood-centered primary care, as well as on a strong public health orientation.

“Cuba has largely eliminated the severe disparities of access, advancing the overall health of their population to near that of the United States and all at a fraction of the per capita costs seen in the United States,” Streiffer says. “The lessons potentially to be learned from collaborating with the Cuban healthcare and medical education systems seem particularly applicable to Alabama, a state with more than its share of health disparities, poor outcomes and resource-poor communities.”