Community and Rural Medicine offers week-long Agricultural Medicine course

In an effort to train health and safety professionals to provide care and prevention services to agricultural producers and their families, as well as those who work in processing of raw agricultural products, the College of Community Health Sciences’ Department of Community and Rural Medicine offered a comprehensive week-long training course on Agricultural Medicine. The course, held May 12-16 at the College, focused on Occupational and Environmental Health for Rural Health Professionals.

The target audience of the course included physicians, nurses and other health and safety professionals, such as extension agents, rehabilitation counselors, emergency medicine personnel, health professions students and others interested in the health and safety of agricultural community. Approximately 30 people were in attendance including students of The University of Alabama Rural Scholars Program, College faculty and staff and others from various backgrounds around the Southeast.

A similar course was first held by the University of Iowa in 1974 in response to an epidemic of occupational disease and traumatic death and injury in the face of diminishing local and federal resources. Over the last 40 years, more than 400 health care and safety professionals have been equipped with the information and skills necessary to provide clinical and preventive services to the agricultural sector.

The University of Alabama was selected to participate in the University of Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (ICASH) Building Capacity Grant which provides $8,000 per state to plan and implement an Agricultural Medicine Training Course like the one offered by the University of Iowa. The grant is funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

Susan Guin, MSN, CRNP, an assistant professor in the College’s Department of Community and Rural Medicine and the coordinator of the training course, reached out to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program to review and revise the course materials supplied by ICASH to reflect the agricultural environment in Alabama and the Southeast.

“For this program to be successful,” Guin said, “the differences in climate, culture, commodity, etc. must be addressed.”

The curriculum included presentations from College faculty and other UA faculty as well as guest lecturers from Auburn University, Tuskegee University, the University of Iowa and Purdue University.

Rural Medical Scholars students honored at Convocation

Members of the College’s Rural Medical Scholars class of 2013-14 and Rural Community Health Scholars were recognized April 25 at the 18th Annual Rural Health Scholars Convocation. The 18 students also earned certification in Rural Community Health.

The Rural Medical Scholars Program is exclusively for college 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. The first year of the program focuses on rural primary care and community medicine and gives students experiences in rural settings through field trips, service projects, research and shadowing of rural physicians.

The Rural Community Health Scholars Program is for graduate students and trains future health care providers to become community health leaders. The training prepares them to develop and maintain community health centers and other health-care practices and to engage in community affairs that advance community health.

The 11 Rural Medical Scholars honored at the convocation, held at the Hotel Capstone on the UA campus, begin their first year of medical school this summer at the School of Medicine’s main campus in Birmingham. They will return to the College, which also functions as a regional campus of the School of Medicine, during their final two years of medical school.

“The mission of the Rural Medical Scholars Program is to produce physicians for rural Alabama who are leaders of health in their communities,” said John Wheat, MD, founder and director of the program.

The convocation keynote address was given by Sandral Hullett, MD, a graduate of the College’s Family Medicine Residency and a national expert in rural health.

“I felt it was important to be a family doctor,” she told the students. “The number one thing is for people to have a doctor who will care for them and listen to them.”

Hullett was also presented with The University of Alabama Rural Medical Scholars Program Distinguished Service Award.

“She has made her mark everywhere she’s been,” Wheat said when presenting the award to Hullett. “She grew to national importance and advised people about what we should do as a country about rural health care.”

After her residency training, Hullett took a position with Green County Hospital in Eutaw, Ala., where she stayed for 23 years, also serving for many of those years as medical director of West Alabama Health Services and as a preceptor for a large number of medical students and residents. She served as a physician and director for the nonprofit Family HealthCare of Alabama, where she supervised 24 primary health care facilities serving 20 rural counties. She later served as CEO and medical director of Cooper Green Mercy Hospital in Birmingham. She is the principal investigator of the National Institutes of Health Transdiciplinary Collaborative Centers for Health Disparities Research.

Hullett has received numerous honors, including induction into the National Institute of Medicine, a unit of the National Academy of Sciences. She was named Rural Doctor of the Year by the National Rural Health Association in 1988, and was elected to Alabama’s Health Care Hall of Fame in 2001.

College Dean Richard Streiffer, MD, also spoke to students at the convocation.

“Rural is always a neglected area, and that’s still the case. So our work continues,” he said. “Congratulations. Study hard and keep in touch. We’ll see most of you back here in a couple of years.”

Whitney Hudman, a Rural Medical Scholar from Jemison, Ala., said, “Coming from a modest background, the Rural Medical Scholars Program was made for people like me. It will help me succeed in medical school.”

College’s Project United earns Excellence in Community Engagement Award

A College research project that is bringing rural Alabama communities and University of Alabama researchers together in projects to reduce obesity has received an Excellence in Community Engagement Award.

The project is called UNITED – Using New Interventions Together to Eliminate Disparities – and it is a partnership of UA’s College of Community Health Sciences and College of Communication and Information Sciences, and the Black Belt Community Foundation. The foundation is a nonprofit organization that works to improve the health and quality of life of citizens in the 12 Black Belt counties it serves.

UNITED is funded by a three-year, $900,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The Excellence in Community Engagement awards were presented at a luncheon April 18 to UA faculty, staff, students and community partners whose research projects reflect excellence in community engagement. The award program, now in its eighth year, is sponsored by UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens and people can change the world,” said Samory Pruitt, PhD, vice president of the UA Division of Community Affairs, of which the Center for Community-Based Partnerships is a part. “We are indeed engaging communities and changing lives.”

Katy Campbell, PhD, dean of the Faculty Extension at the University of Alberta, Canada, was the awards luncheon keynote speaker. She is an engaged scholar and member of the board of directors of the Engagement Scholarship Consortium, and is an expert in learning and instructional design and faculty transformation.

“We are involved in creating knowledge, not only in the hallways of universities but out there,” Campbell said.

Prior to the awards luncheon, there was a presentation of UA research posters emphasizing community-university partnerships and successful civic engagement practices.

The focus of project UNITED is to improve the health of rural Black Belt communities in regard to obesity and related diseases. Through UNITED, research training programs have been created for community residents and UA researchers to build their community-based participatory research capacity. CBPR is research that is conducted as an equal partnership between researchers and community members and allows communities to participate fully in all aspects of the research. To date, four research projects involving various Black Belt communities and UA researchers have been developed.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 32 percent of Alabama’s population is considered obese, above the national average of 27 percent. In some Black Belt counties, obesity rates range between 39 and 47 percent for adults and greater than 20 percent for school-age children. Obesity can lead to myriad of health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers.


Rural Health Conference focuses on early childhood development

The key to forming healthy communities and eliminating health disparities in rural areas is to start early—from birth to age 5.

Early childhood development was the focus of the 15th Annual Rural Health Conference, held April 29 at The University of Alabama Bryant Conference Center. Hosted each year by the College of Community Health Sciences and its Institute for Rural Health Research, the conference is attended by health care providers, community leaders, researchers, government officials and policymakers interested in making an impact in rural communities.

This year’s event, “Healthy Beginnings, Healthy Communities: The Early Childhood Experience,” featured keynote speakers Allison de la Torre, MA, executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, and Bernard Guyer, MD, MPH, the Zanvyl Kreiger professor of children’s health, emeritus, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

De la Torre, who works with the ASRA to promote high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten as a top statewide priority and has implemented state-based pre-k policy initiatives, spoke about the need for high-quality pre-K education in Alabama, as well as led a discussion of the definition of “high-quality.”

She said the most important window of a child’s education and brain development is before age 5: children who attended a higher-quality pre-K often have higher achievement test scores later on in life.

“This is critical,” de la Torre said. “This is vital to our state’s economic future. The achievement gap that our teachers and policymakers work so hard to close begins as a school-readiness gap.”

Guyer, who delivered the afternoon keynote address via videoconferencing (due to severe weather), spoke about how to link early child health to healthy communities as a whole. The more adverse events that occur during early childhood, the more likely adverse outcomes (like heart disease and depression) will be present later in life, even into the individual’s 50s, 60s and 70s, Guyer said.

“How do we go about addressing early influences in adult life?” Guyer asked. “We’ve begun to realize that it isn’t just about medicine, that healthy life is created in homes, health care facilities, community facilities in neighborhoods, in day care, in a whole range of different kinds of settings.”

Conference breakout sessions, many of which were led by speakers from the UA colleges of Nursing, Education and Human Environmental Sciences, focused on early child health care, development and education.

Michele Montgomery, PhD, MPH, RN, and Paige Johnson, PhD, MSN, RN, both assistant professors at The University of Alabama Capstone College of Nursing, spoke at the beginning of the conference and also in a breakout session about the Tuscaloosa Pre-K Initiative. Another breakout session was led by Maria Hernandez-Reif, PhD, director of pediatric development research for the UA College of Human Environmental Sciences, who spoke about common milestones in early childhood development.

This year’s William A. Curry Award winner was Keri R. Merschman, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Alabama School of Medicine — Huntsville campus, for her research, “Report to the AAFP: Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Tar Wars Education Program.” The award, named after the former dean of the College of Community Health Sciences and founder of the Institute for Rural Health Research, honors a UASOM student who demonstrates an academic interest in rural medicine and is engaged in rural research or scholarly activity.

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.