Convocation recognizes rural Alabama students working to become rural doctors

May 2, 2018

Eleven students who want to become physicians and practice in rural Alabama communities were recognized May 6 at a convocation for the Rural Medical Scholars Program, which is operated by the College of Community Health Sciences. The program is exclusively for rural Alabama students and includes a year of study, after students receive their undergraduate degree, that leads to a master’s degree in Rural Community Health and early admission to the University of Alabama School of Medicine (UASOM). 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 CCHS for their final two years of clinical education. The 11 Rural Medical Scholars begin medical school this summer. “Alabama is a disproportionately rural state and programs that develop rural health professionals are vital,” CCHS dean Dr. Richard Streiffer said in his welcoming remarks. “If you want rural health professionals, you need to start with rural individuals.” Dr. Craig Hoesley, senior associate dean for Medical Education for the School of Medicine, provided the convocation keynote address. Hoesley oversees the undergraduate, graduate and continuing medical education programs of the School of Medicine. Hoesley said Alabama has 284 medically underserved areas, more than any other Southeastern state, according to the US Health Resources Services Administration. “We have entire counties without a provider of any kind.” He said the UA School of Medicine’s mission is to provide physicians for Alabama, but “we’re not successful at this point. The Rural Medical Scholars Program has done this better than any other program in the history of our state.” He told the Rural Medical Scholars being honored at the convocation, held at the Hotel Capstone on the UA campus, that they are a voice for the program and to “continue to extol the virtues of primary care. You are an inspiration to others.” Approximately 200 students have entered the Rural Medical Scholars Program since its founding in 1996. Dr. James Leeper, medical director of the program, said three-quarters of Rural Medical Scholars specialize in family medicine and other primary care disciplines. Also during the convocation, the Rural Medical Scholars Program Distinguished Service Award was presented on behalf of Dr. Neil Christopher, who has been a rural family medicine physician, primary care advocate and Alabama health care leader for more than four decades. Christopher served as chair of the Alabama Academy of Family Physicians and was chosen as its Family Doctor of the Year in 1993. He was also founding chair of the Alabama Family Practice Rural Health Board and received the prestigious Samuel Buford Humanitarian Award from the Medical Association of the State of Alabama. Christopher was unable to attend the convocation, but Susan Guin, associate director of the College’s Rural Scholars Program noted that he was “committed and devoted to improving rural health care in Alabama. Based on his support for our program and his advocacy for rural health, we recognize him.” 2017-18 Rural Medical Scholars: