Brandon elected to lead Alabama Academic Family Medicine Council

Dr. John Brandon, medical director of the Rural Medical Scholars Program at The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences and a family physician in Gordo, Ala., has been elected chair of the Alabama Academic Family Medicine Council.

The council, which is made up of family medicine academic leadership from across the state, focuses on family medicine in Alabama, from medical student education to recruitment and retention of practicing physicians.

Since Brandon started serving on the council in 1996, it has shifted from its initial focus of advising the dean of the University of Alabama School of Medicine (it was formerly known as the Primary Care Advisory Council), to addressing family medicine in Alabama as a whole, he says.

Brandon says the council, which meets four times a year, is unique because few, if any, states have an organization for academic leadership in family medicine to share information, discuss issues and make recommendations.

“Since the council is independent, it can advise elected officials, state policymakers and the public about issues of concern in preparing family physicians to serve in the state,” Brandon says.

The council is made up of leadership from each medical school in Alabama, including each regional campus of the University of Alabama School of Medicine, which is headquartered in Birmingham. One of the College’s functions is serving as the Tuscaloosa Regional Campus for the School of Medicine and providing clinical education for a cohort of third- and fourth-year medical students. Leadership of family medicine residencies and rural health programs in the state, such as the College’s Rural Medical Scholars Program, also make up the council. Leadership from the Alabama Academy of Family Physicians also serve.

“The council’s biggest accomplishment in recent years is the work with the Alabama Academy of Family Physicians and the Medical Association of the State of Alabama to advocate for the state scholarship for rural service,” Brandon says.

Serving on the council with Brandon from the College are: Dr. Richard Streiffer, dean of the College; Dr. Richard Friend, chair of Family Medicine and director of the College’s Family Medicine Residency; Dr. Drake Lavender, assistant professor in Family Medicine and president of the Alabama Academy of Family Physicians; and Dr. Julia Boothe, adjunct instructor in Family Medicine and chair of the Alabama Academy of Family Physicians Board of Directors.

Area Students Get Feel For Rural Health During UA Summer Program

Two select groups of students from across the state were recently on The University of Alabama campus for the Rural Health Scholars and Rural Minority Health Scholars programs in the College of Community Health Sciences.

These two five-week programs introduce students from rural areas to college life and give them an orientation to the need for health and medical professionals in communities like their own. Statistics show that rural students are more likely to live and practice in rural areas. The concept of the Rural Health Leaders Pipeline was developed as part of a strategy to recruit rural students into medical school.

Annual conference focuses on challenges facing rural health

A “cooking challenge” was the focus of the 16th Annual Rural Health Conference, held April 17 at The University of Alabama Ferguson Student Center. Hosted each year by the College and its Institute for Rural Health Research, the conference is attended by health care providers, community leaders, researchers, government officials and policy makers interested in making an impact on rural communities.

Chef Leah Sarris, program director of the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans and the first full-time chef ever employed by a medical school, took the challenge.

Sarris, who teaches medical students, doctors and patients the tenants of healthful cooking and the important role that food plays in preventing and managing obesity and associated diseases, was given $150 (the maximum food assistant allotment for a family of four from the Alabama Food Assistance Program) to purchases food in a rural Alabama community for a week of healthy meals. She provided a demonstration at the conference of how to prepare a few of these healthy meals.

Chef Leah Sarris (right), program director of the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, and culinary nutrition intern Christine Blank demonstrate how to prepare a chicken for roasting at the 16th annual Rural Health Conference.

Chef Leah Sarris (right), program director of the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, and culinary nutrition intern Christine Blank demonstrate how to prepare a chicken for roasting at the 16th annual Rural Health Conference.

In addition to Sarris, this year’s Rural Health Conference, “Making the Healthcare System Work for You: Individuals, Clinicians and Communities,” also featured keynote speaker Dr. Daniel Marek, chief medical officer of the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy.

Marek spoke about the challenges facing rural health in America, primarily the closure of rural hospitals, particularly in the South, and the shortage of health professionals. He said 33 rural hospitals have closed nationwide since 2013.

Marek said rural training tracks for medical students and resident physicians are an important way to increase the number of health professionals who will go into rural areas to practice. He said many family medicine physicians practice in rural communities. Today, new rural training tracks can qualify for Medicare graduate medical education support, he said.

Dr. Daniel Marek, chief medical officer of the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, spoke about the challenges facing rural health in America.

Dr. Daniel Marek, chief medical officer of the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, spoke about the challenges facing rural health in America.

The title of Sarris’s keynote address was “Food as a Means of Preventive Medicine: Taking the Challenge.” She said currently, approximately 30 percent of the U.S. population is considered overweight or obese, up from 10 percent just several decades ago. Obesity is a contributor to some of the top causes of death in the United States, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer, she said.

“These are diet-related,” she said. “We can decrease hospital stays and death by changing the way people eat and think about food.”

Sarris spoke about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which includes several servings each day of vegetables, legumes, fruits and nuts, cereals and whole grains, fish and seafood; encourages the consumption of quality fats and oils such as olive and grapeseed oil and avocados; focuses on aged cheese, yogurt and cottage cheese for dairy needs; and avoids processed meats. She said one recent study found a 50 percent to 70 percent reduction in second heart attacks among participants who started following the diet after their first heart attack. A second study documented a 25 percent decrease in death from heart disease and cancer.

“The Mediterranean diet is realistic for us to follow,” Sarris said.

Sarris said the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine teaches medical students, residents and patients how to use these healthy dietary principles. “At most medical schools, students get less than 28 hours of nutrition education. At Tulane, we’re taking that up a notch.”

In addition to teaching medical students, residents and patients about healthy eating, the Goldring Center also offers free community cooking classes, and provides information about nutrition, meal planning and ways to use leftovers.

“The data shows we’re a catalyst for changing people’s lives,” Sarris said. “People who receive this kind of advice, particularly from their doctors, are more likely to adopt health lifestyle changes and to share them with their community.”

Conference breakout sessions, many of which were led by speakers from The University of Alabama, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and DCH Health System in Tuscaloosa, focused on doctor-patient communication, health care consumerism, and the challenges of primary care in underserved areas of Alabama.

Jerri Jackson, director of managed care for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, and Robin Rawls, the agency’s communications director, gave an update on the state’s Medicaid program.

This year's William A. Curry Award winner was Elizabeth Junkin, now a fourth-year medical student at the College.

This year’s William A. Curry Award winner was Elizabeth Junkin, now a fourth-year medical student at the College.

This year’s William A. Curry Award winner was Elizabeth Junkin, now a fourth-year medical student at the College, for her research, “Moving Pickens County Primary Care toward Patient-Centered Medical Home Qualifications through a Diabetes Self-Management Education Program.” The award, named after the former dean of the College and a founder of the Institute for Rural Health Research, honors a University of Alabama School of Medicine student who demonstrates an academic interest in rural medicine and is engaged in rural research or scholarly activity.

Taking the Challenge: Eating Healthy and Delicious in Rural Alabama

It may be challenging for a family of four living in rural Alabama to eat healthy meals and snacks for an entire week for less than $150, which is the average amount they would receive from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. But Chef Leah Sarris not only says it’s possible, she’s proved it.

Sarris, program director of the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, was a keynote speaker at the 16th Annual Rural Health Conference, hosted by the College of Community Health Sciences’s Institute for Rural Health Research. The conference, “Making the Healthcare System Work for You: Individuals, Clinicians and Communities,” was held April 17, 2015, at the Ferguson Student Center on The University of Alabama campus.

The day before giving her talk, Sarris, who is also the first full-time chef to be employed by a medical school, visited a Piggly Wiggly grocery story in rural Greensboro, Ala., to shop for items on her menu with her team of students—culinary nutrition intern Christine Blank and fourth-year medical student John Martin.

She showed a video of her shopping trip at the conference the next day, where she and her team gave a cooking demonstration of two of her menu items: vegetarian chili and roasted chicken with sweet potatoes and sauteed greens.

Dr. John C. Higginbotham, director of the Institute for Rural Health Research, says Sarris’s background aligned well with the Individual Track that the conference offered, because individuals can eat healthy and delicious foods to help prevent and control common health conditions.

“Rural areas often do not have access to nutritional foods in the types and varieties to which more urban areas have access,” Higginbotham says. “Many individuals point out that the resources available through programs like SNAP are insufficient to produce healthy meals. While all rural areas are different, the challenge for Chef Sarris was to travel to a rural area, with the funds that would be available to a family of four on the SNAP program for a week, and to create delicious, healthy meals from those resources.”

Sarris offered pointers for shopping for and preparing healthy meals while sticking to a tight budget. Planning is key, she says.

“I cannot tell you enough how important the planning piece is,” she says. “You need to have a plan. Write out the menu for the week and plan to cross utilize ingredients.”

For instance, Sarris used sweet potatoes three ways throughout the week: First as a side for roasted chicken, another way in a vegetarian chili and a third way in tacos with black beans and greens. And after roasting her whole chicken for dinner one night, she saved the carcass to make chicken stock for a soup the next day.

Sarris also says that the majority of a shopping trip should take place in the perimeter of the grocery store instead of the center.

“That’s where most of the fresh, healthier, less processed foods are going to be,” she says.

It’s also important to allow for flexibility. For example, Sarris had tacos on her menu, but she waited until her shopping trip to choose the protein so that she could see what was on sale or looked good. She chose pork chops that were available for a good price.

Throughout the shopping trip, Sarris offered tips for making healthy decisions. She advises shoppers to stay away from processed meats, like bologna and hot dogs, which are high in sodium. She also recommends Smucker’s All Natural Peanut Butter as an affordable option that is lower in hydrogenated fat than more processed peanut butters. And she said popcorn is a healthy, whole-grain snack alternative to chips or pretzels.

Sarris and her team came in under budget at $127. This means she could have bought a little extra, she says, especially if they were not buying pantry staples like rice or spices.

For many families living in rural Alabama, it is not as easy to come under budget because they may not have the knowledge or skills to do so.

“There does need to be change in the food systems,” Sarris says. “This isn’t something people know automatically. This is something we have to teach them.”

Here is Sarris’s weeklong menu for a family of four:

Breakfast:

  1. Oatmeal with Nuts (two days)
  2. Cereal with fruit
  3. Eggs and toast (two days)
  4. Cottage cheese (originally plain yogurt, which was not available) and fruit
  5. Toast and peanut butter

Dinner

  1. Vegetarian Chili
  2. Tacos with Corn Relish
  3. Red Beans and Rice
  4. Fish, Rice Pilaf and Vegetables
  5. Tuna Casserole
  6. Roasted Chicken and Sweet Potatoes with Sauteed Greens
  7. Chicken and Rice Soup

 Lunch

  1. Salad with Bean and Rice Patties
  2. Tuna Casserole (leftover)
  3. Chili Nachos
  4. Chicken Salad
  5. Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Greens
  6. Peanut Butter and Jelly
  7. Chicken and Rice Soup (leftover)

Watch Sarris’s shopping trip:

Rural Medical Scholars honored at convocation

Members of the College’s Rural Medical Scholars Class of 2014-15 were recognized April 17 at the Rural Health Scholars Convocation, held at the Hotel Capstone on The University of Alabama campus.

The seven members of the class will begin their first year of medical school this summer at the University of Alabama School of Medicine’s main campus in Birmingham. They will return to the College, which provides clinical education and experiences for a portion of School of Medicine students, during their final two years of medical school.

The College’s Rural Medical Scholars Program is exclusively for university seniors or graduate students from rural Alabama. It is a five-year track of medical studies that leads to a certificate or master’s degree in Rural Community Health in the first year, and a medical degree from the University of Alabama School of Medicine in the fifth year.

Dr. Deanah Maxwell, a former Rural Medical Scholar who now practices family medicine in Brewton, Ala., provided the keynote address.

“It is here that I acquired the skills to become Dr. Maxwell,” she said. “The clinical education I received here has allowed me to make a positive impact on my patients.”

After completing the Rural Medical Scholars program and medical school, Maxwell did her residency training at the College’s Family Medicine Residency. She then went to practice in rural Alabama. “I came full circle” she said.

“As you embark on this next phase of your life,” she told members of the Rural Medical Scholars class, “it’s easy to focus on studies and rotations. But find something you love outside of medicine. Reach out to others. Ask for help when you need it. When you have those days where you feel a sense of joy, share that with your family. Great doctors and great people recognize the importance of human connections.”

During the convocation, Dr. Michael McBrearty, who practices family medicine in Fairhope, Ala., and who was the first graduate of the College’s Family Medicine Residency, was presented with the Rural Medical Scholars Program Distinguished Service Award. McBrearty, who graduated from the residency in 1975, was introduced by his son, Dr. Sean McBrearty.

“My dad has had a great impact on my life. He’s the reason I went into family medicine,” McBrearty said. “I hope I always have the passion for practicing family medicine that you do.”

Michael McBrearty said he was humbled to receive the award. “The folks who have received this award before me are leaders and really put this program on the map,” he said. “They gave up their established practices to come here and make this program what it is. The work of this program is nationally known and a model of how things should go.”

Allison Montgomery, a Rural Medical Scholar from Talladega, Ala., spoke briefly at the convocation. She plans a career as a physician in rural Alabama, which has a shortage of primary care and family medicine physicians.

“We’ve had such a fantastic year,” she said. “We’ve learned so much about medicine. We’re invigorated, ready to go and looking forward to the future.”

 

 

Rural Medical Scholar receives UA award for service

Allison Montgomery, a recent graduate of the College of Community Health Sciences’s current Rural Medical Scholars class, was awarded the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, the highest honor given to a University of Alabama student as a recognition of excellence in character and service to humanity.

Montgomery, of Talladega, Ala., is a Biology major and will enroll in the University of Alabama School of Medicine next year. She plans a career as a physician in rural Alabama, which has a shortage of primary care and family medicine physicians.

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

Montgomery is a member of the UA Blackburn Institute and XXXI, a women’s honorary organization at UA. She has served as president of the Mortar Board honor society and in the Student Government Association.

As director of the SGA’s Sunday Service Initiative, she oversaw student efforts for tornado relief in Tuscaloosa in 2011, and traveled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic on medical service trips. Montgomery was also UA’s 2014 homecoming queen.

Rural Medical Scholar gives back to program

Dr. Rick Jotani, a family physician in Pell City, Ala., and a graduate of the Rural Medical Scholars Program at the College of Community Health Sciences, has pledged $50,000 to the program.

Jotani, who has practiced in Pell City since 2006, also completed his third and fourth years of medical school at CCHS, which functions as a regional campus of the University of Alabama School of Medicine.

“The reason I wanted to make this contribution to the RMSP was because the program was so instrumental in helping me become a physician,” he says. “It guided me into primary care and helped mold me into the family medicine physician that I am today.”

Jotani has made a commitment of $10,000 a year for five years to support the RMSP through The University of Alabama Rural Medical Programs Endowed Discretionary Fund, established by an anonymous donor and approved by the UA Board of Trustees in 2000.

The purpose of the fund is to create an endowment to which other funds can be added “to promote a comprehensive rural medical education program and educational excellence for students in rural medical programs at CCHS,” says Dr. John Wheat, founder and director of the RMSP and a professor of Community and Rural Medicine at the College.

The fund and endowment will help meet program expenses not covered by state and grant sources, provide scholarship support for rural medical scholars and lay a foundation for future endowed rural faculty and research positions and rural medical fellowships, Wheat says.

The RMSP is nationally recognized for producing primary care and rural physicians. The program, which is exclusively for rural Alabama students, is a five-year track of medical studies that focuses on rural primary care and community medicine and leads to a medical degree. Since its founding two decades ago, the program has had 187 participants; 123 have completed medical school and 90 have completed residencies.

“It is highly satisfying to see former students reaching professional milestones. It is especially gratifying to see those like Rick reinvesting in the RMSP,” Wheat says. “It is gift support like this that helps create a stable foundation for continued growth in the RMSP and related rural medical education.”

After graduating from the University of Alabama School of Medicine, Jotani completed a residency in family medicine at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center in Spartanburg, S.C. He also completed a fellowship in sports medicine at Halifax Sports Medicine in Daytona Beach, Fla.

He is a member of the American Academy of Family Practice and the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, and is the team physician for Pell City High School.

Health conference to host culinary medicine director

The goal of the 16th Annual Rural Health Conference is to push the understanding of individual, clinical and 
community healthcare in rural Alabama.

The conference will be held April 17 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Ferguson Student Center on The University of Alabama’s campus and is open to healthcare professionals, community and government leaders, policymakers, researchers and others who aspire to make a difference in community rural health, according to the RHC website.

“The Rural Health Conference is hosted by the Institute for Rural Health Research,” said Leslie Zganjar, director of the College of Community Health Sciences Department of Communications. “This conference is one of its biggest projects for the year, and this year they are having what we are calling a cooking challenge put on by a chef employed by the Tulane University School of Medicine.”

Leeper honored for contributions of statistical knowledge to medical, public health research

Dr. James Leeper, a professor in the Department of Community and Rural Medicine at the College of Community Health Sciences, has been selected as a Fellow of the American Statistical Association.

Leeper was recognized for “continuous contributions of statistical knowledge to the medical and public health research communities; for outstanding mentorship and teaching of medical, other health sciences, and graduate students; and for service to the statistics profession through exceptional leadership as an applied statistician in public health and medicine.”

A ceremony to honor Leeper will be held Aug. 11 in Seattle during the ASA annual meeting.

“It is a real honor to be recognized by one’s peers and professional organization,” says Dr. Richard Streiffer, dean of the College.

Leeper teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on biostatistics and serves on numerous thesis and dissertation committees. He directs the College’s master’s degree program in Rural Community Health and is the director of Education and Evaluation for the College’s rural programs. He is also a charter senior investigator in the College’s Institute for Rural Health Research.

Leeper received The University of Alabama National Alumni Association’s prestigious Outstanding Commitment to Teaching Award in 1995 and the 2003 Outstanding Alumni Award from the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa. He is a member of the National Rural Health Association Rural Medical Educators Group, which is influential in the development of rural medical education policy and programing.

He has served on a variety of boards and in chair positions for the ASA and the American Public Health Association. He has published more than 90 referred articles, co-authored four book chapters, and co-authored more than 100 paper presentations and posters. Much of his work deals with rural health issues, including community-based program evaluation as well as with statistical methodology, including missing data problems in the longitudinal analysis and spatial/temporal analysis.

Leeper earned his PhD in biostatistics at the University of Iowa. Upon graduation, he joined the College and from 1987 through 2001 was chair of the Department of Community and Rural Medicine.

The American Statistical Association is the world’s largest community of statisticians and supports excellence in the development, application and dissemination of statistical science through meetings, publications, membership services, education, accreditation and advocacy. Members serve in academia, industry and government in more than 90 countries and work to advance research and promote sound statistical practice to inform public policy and improve human welfare.

 

UA’s Rural Health Conference Features Cooking Challenge

Alabama suffers from one of the highest obesity rates in the nation, yet many residents struggle to find healthy food. The University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences and its Institute for Rural Health Research hope to change that during the 16th annual Rural Health Conference April 17.

This year’s event will feature a “cooking challenge,” which is being undertaken by Chef Leah Sarris, program director of the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans and the first full-time chef ever employed by a medical school.