College to sponsor city’s TEDx event, faculty to present

Two College of Community Health Sciences faculty will present at the first TEDxTuscaloosa event, which will take place on April 11 at Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center in downtown Tuscaloosa. The College will also be a sponsor of the event.

Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster, associate professor of Community and Rural Medicine and deputy director of the Institute for Rural Health Research, and Dr. Alan Blum, professor and Gerald Leon Wallace Endowed Chair of Family Medicine, will join six other speakers at the event.

Their talks will focus on their respective areas of research. Foster’s research area of interest is the study of HIV/AIDS-related stigma in rural African Americans in Alabama, particularly in faith-based settings in rural Alabama.

Blum is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the history of smoking and cigarette marketing. Since 1998, he has directed The University of Alabama Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society, which comprises one of the world’s largest collections on the tobacco industry and the anti-smoking movement.

TEDxTuscaloosa will be held from 5 pm to 9 pm, and those interested in attending must apply online at The priority deadline for applying is March 11, though applications will be accepted for another week or until all spots are filled.

TEDx is an offshoot of TED, a nonprofit devoted to the concept of “ideas worth spreading.” TEDx events local, self-organized events that are designed to bring communities together to share in a TED-like experience. At TEDx events, both live speakers and TED Talk videos are incorporated.

Burgess, Smith share successes of Asthma Education Program

A school-based asthma education program was launched in DeKalb County in September by the College of Community Health Sciences. The program is being conducted via telemedicine by Dr. Karen Burgess, associate professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics, and Beth Smith, a nurse practitioner in the Faculty-Staff Clinic at University Medical Center. The two presented on the successes and challenges of the program at the College’s February Academic Conference.

Once a week, for four weeks, a group of students at the Ruhama Junior High School in Fort Payne, along with their parents and school staff and administrators, learn about asthma symptoms, medications and treatments. After a group has completed four sessions, another group participates.

The school was chosen because of its high rate of documented asthma cases, and Burgess and Smith referred to the National Asthma Prevention Program and the Alabama Department of Public Health’s asthma coalition when forming the curriculum.

The first two groups consisted of seven or eight students, parents, and a few staff or administrators from the school. The third group was made up of teachers and school staff. Altogether, 44 learners have been reached by the program.

“It was our goal to reach some parents of children and school staff, so we could kill two birds with one stone,” Burgess said.

The asthma education program is being funded with a $25,000 gift from BlueCross Blue Shield of Alabama.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 137,091 children in Alabama had asthma in 2007, a prevalence rate of 12.3 percent, which compares to the US rate of 9 percent.

So far, about one-third of the gift has been used, and 15 asthma spacers (add-on devices for inhalers that allow for easier and more effective administration of medication) were provided for students. Burgess said parents have also reported improved symptoms of their children.

Burgess said she and Smith found the informal classroom setting (versus a medical examination room setting) to be helpful in engaging the students, even with the occasional “awkwardness” that comes with communicating with video conferencing equipment.

“We provide asthma education every day in the clinic, and we never have had kids ask questions the way they do in the classroom,” she says.

CCHS has provided specialty health care via telemedicine across the state for a number of years, including: telepsychiatry services to the DeKalb County Youth Services; telepsychiatry services to West Alabama Mental Health Care Center, with sites in Marengo, Choctaw, Greene, Hale and Sumter counties; and diabetes education via telemedicine to a number of rural Alabama communities in Sumter, Pickens and Clarke counties.

HIV/AIDS study nearing end

A research study examining the role that African-American churches and congregations can play in reducing HIV-AIDS related stigma in rural Alabama is nearing the finish line.

Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster, deputy director of the College’s Institute for Rural Health Research, is the principal investigator of the $540,368 grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She is also an associate professor in the College’s Department of Community and Rural Medicine.

The purpose of the study, titled Faith-Based Anti-Stigma Initiative Towards Healing HIV/AIDS, or Project FAITHH, is to conduct and evaluate an HIV/AIDS anti-stigma related intervention among 10 African American churches in rural Alabama in an effort to decrease both individual and community stigma in these congregations.

“Currently, we have almost completed all the control churches and half of the standardized churches and are currently working on the intervention churches,” Foster says.

The intervention includes daylong HIV/AIDS seminars at the churches, after which changes will be measured in congregants’ HIV/AIDS knowledge, as well as HIV/AIDS-related stigma.

Rural Medical Scholar is UA Homecoming Queen

140920_Rural_Medical_ScholarsAllison Montgomery, a member of the College’s current Rural Medical Scholars class, was elected University of Alabama homecoming queen last week by the University’s student body.

The Rural Medical Scholars Program is exclusively for rural Alabama students who wish to become physicians and practice in rural communities. The program includes a year of study leading 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, of Talladega, Ala., plans a career as a rural Alabama physician. Alabama has a shortage of primary care and family medicine physicians, particularly in rural areas of the state.

A senior majoring in Biology, Montgomery is a member of the UA Blackburn Institute and XXXI, a women’s honorary organization on campus. 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, Montgomery oversaw student efforts for tornado relief in Tuscaloosa, and traveled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic on medical service trips.

Pickens County Health Scholars welcomed

A new class of the College’s Pickens County Health Scholars program gathered in Carrollton, Ala., at the Pickens Baptist Association for a welcome dinner on October 27. The 20 students, all in the 10th and 11th grades, were joined by parents, teachers, county leaders, and staff and students from the College’s Rural Medical Scholars Program, a five-year medical education program for rural students planning to enter medical school.

The Pickens County Health Scholars were chosen this fall through an application and selection process. They received laptop computers and ACT prep exercises to help them prepare for college entrance exams.

The dinner was organized by the program’s local coordinator, Patti Presley-Fuller of the Pickens County Extension Office, and Melissa Cox, outreach programs coordinator at the College and director of the Pickens County Health Scholars program.

The program is supported by a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to help meet the ongoing need for rural health care providers in Pickens County and surrounding counties in West Alabama and the Black Belt region.

“Recruiting local students into health careers is critical in attracting a stable and continuous supply of health professionals into this region’s health care workforce,” Cox says.

One day each month, the Pickens County Health Scholars will participate in a health-related activity or field trip to help prepare for college and future health careers.

The Scholars were chosen by a local committee with consideration given to grades, extracurricular involvement, community service and a written application. The applicants were also interviewed by the committee.

The 2014-15 Pickens County Health Scholars are:

10th Grade

Ashley Birmingham, Pickens Academy

Carol Bozeman, Gordo High School

Victoria Dee, Pickens Academy

Amber Driver, Pickens County High School

Reagan Gibson, Pickens Academy

Reagan Griffin, Gordo High School

Ashleigh McCool, Pickens Academy

Kaylee Pate, Gordo High School

Mariel Tellis, Pickens County High School

Skyler, Gordo High School


11th Grade

Morrisa Ball, Aliceville High School

Tanita Crowel, Aliceville High School

Riley Carpenter, Gordo High School

Karli Elmore, Gordo High School

Calandria Harris, Aliceville High School

Kayla Jones, Pickens County High School

Olivia Rector, Pickens Academy

Katelyn Shamery, Aliceville High School

Kandis Snyder, Pickens County High School

DeKendra Williams, Aliceville High School

Alabama got nearly $2 million to help pay for primary care in underserved areas

Approximately $283 million from the Affordable Care Act in 2014 went to increase primary care services in rural areas like Alabama, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Increasing funding for the National Health Service Corps will help increase primary care in areas that need it, said Dr. Richard Streiffer, dean of the College of Community Health Sciences at the University of Alabama.

Rural communities struggle to keep doctors

As much as he likes working in Heflin, Dr. Igor Bidikov said he has had a hard time recruiting doctors to work with him in Heflin. The doctors will come for a little while and then they leave, he said. The problem is a symptom of a statewide shortage of doctors that has hit rural areas especially hard, say representatives of the medical field.

Faculty addresses food deserts

John Higginbotham, PhD, associate dean for research and health policy and director of the Institute for Rural Health Research at the College of Community Health Sciences, recently discussed the effects of food deserts on childhood obesity in a Crimson White article.

According to Higginbotham, children who grow up in food deserts have a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes and other health conditions associated with obesity and poor nutrition.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as areas where a significant percentage of the population lives more than a mile from the nearest source of fresh, healthy food. For many people living in a food desert, the only sources of food they have access to are gas stations and convenience stores.

“Right now our adolescents and our young children, 31 percent of them are either overweight or obese,” Higginbotham told The University of Alabama student newspaper. “If we look at the adults, that number jumps to 69 percent in our state. These children are going to have the same problems with obesity that adults are having but at a younger age. There have even been some people who have said this may be the first generation that doesn’t outlive their parents if it continues to go in this direction.”

UA was awarded a $1 million grant from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities that is funding Project UNITED, which works to reduce childhood obesity in Alabama’s Black Belt region. Through Project UNITED, a collaborative effort of the UA Colleges of Community Health Sciences and Communication and Information Sciences, Higginbotham and other UA researchers involved in the project are working to create lasting solutions to food deserts and obesity by customizing solutions that fit each individual community.

Read the full Crimson White article here.

Economic impact of practicing rural obstetrics

According to the research of Dan Avery, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the College of Community Health Sciences, a family physician practicing obstetrics in a rural community adds a nearly $1.5 million annual benefit to the local economy. The research article looking at this economic impact was published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (JABFM) earlier this month.

The project was a joint effort of several UA researchers, including: Dwight Hooper, MD, , a professor, and John McDonald, MD, an assistant professor, both in the College’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Melanie Tucker, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and director of clinical investigations for the College; Jason Parton, PhD, an assistant research professor of statistics in the Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration’s Department of Information Systems, Statistics and Management Science; and Michael Love, MD, a 2014 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Medicine.

According to the article, obstetric care affects the economic development and sustainability of rural communities. The availability of maternity care affects young people moving to the community, local businesses and other medical and hospital services.

“When maternity care is lost in a community, negative effects occur on many levels,” Avery says.

The University of Alabama Family Medicine Obstetrics Fellowship was founded in 1986 by the College to help bring obstetrical care to Alabama’s underserved, rural communities and is one of the oldest fellowships of its kind in the United States.

Read the full JABFM article here.

High school students participate in College’s summer rural programs

Forty-three high school students from rural Alabama who are interested in pursuing health care careers participated in two College programs this summer.

The programs provide information about how to prepare for medical school and other health professions training and encourage students to return to their hometowns to practice. There is a critical need for health care professionals in rural Alabama.

Twenty-six 11th grade students participated in the Rural Health Scholars Program. The program is a five-week

program on The University of Alabama campus and students take college courses for credit, participate in seminars with practicing health care professionals and visit health care facilities.

The Rural Minority Health Scholars Program is for college-bound high school graduates from rural Alabama. The program is a five-week program on campus and students take classes and tutorials to enhance their knowledge and test-taking skills so that they can achieve competitive scores on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). They also visit local health care facilities and the Birmingham campus of the University of Alabama School of Medicine. The College also functions as the Tuscaloosa Regional Campus of the School of Medicine. Seventeen students participated in the program this summer.

The Rural Minority Health Scholars Program was begun to increase the number of minority students from rural Alabama who qualify for admission to medical school. Of the 130 Rural Minority Health Scholars who have participated in the program since its start in 2001, 11 have entered medical school. Meanwhile, two have entered the field of dentistry, two optometry, two pharmacy, nine nursing and one is training as a physician’s assistant.