First nine Hale County Health Scholars graduates honored, Bentley keynote speaker

The first nine graduates of the Hale County Health Scholars program were honored at a luncheon ceremony Thursday, Nov. 21, at Moundville Archaeological Park with Gov. Robert Bentley as the keynote speaker. 

Gov. Robert Bentley and Shaquila Washington, Hale County Health Scholar and senior at Sunshine High School
Gov. Robert Bentley and Shaquila Washington, Hale County Health Scholar and senior at Sunshine High School

The senior luncheon acknowledged students who were selected from across Hale County in 2011 based on their academic record, volunteer activities, leadership skills and essays about their future plans. Once a month, the students participated in activities related to health careers, including visits to local health care facilities, agro-medicine field trips to farms, seminars with health professionals and skills workshops.

The Hale County Health Scholars Program is one of three West Alabama Health Scholars programs (the others are in Fayette and Pickens County) operated by the College of Community Health Sciences. The programs—initiated by the West Alabama Health Development Partnership—are designed to introduce high school students to health care professions and the needs in their communities. The programs are conducted by local leaders in health care and education sectors working with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the State of Alabama, the Appalachian Regional Commission and The University of Alabama.

Bentley offered words of encouragement to the students, saying that while they are at the very beginnings of their careers in health, they have the opportunity to succeed and give back to their communities.   

“[The Rural Medical Scholars Program] is a program that really shows results,” he said. “But it takes time—it’s not something that obviously occurs in a year or two or three. It takes a long time to prepare for a medical career. But the program has been in place for several years, and as we look at the maps across Alabama, and we see the physicians that have been produced, it makes me very proud of this program and proud to have been part of it.”

Bentley also said that the Appalachian Regional Commission, upon his recommendation, would offer funding for another year to the College to continue the Hale County Health Scholars program.

The Rural Medical Scholars Program, one of the programs in the College’s Rural Health Leaders Pipeline, is a five-year track of medical studies leading to a medical degree, including a year prior into medical school and four years of medical school. College seniors or graduate students from rural areas are eligible to participate.

Also present at the luncheon were Jimmy Lester, state program manager for the Appalachian Regional Commission; Jim Byard, director for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs; Tom Lackey, administrator for Hale County Hospital; Tyrone Smith, coordinator for the Hale County Cooperative Extension Service; and Jenny Hughey, teacher for the Hale County School System. Each also addressed the students offering words of praise and encouragement.

The graduates also gave speeches sharing their thoughts on the program and what they have received from it.

Shaquila Washington, a senior at Sunshine High School, said that being a Hale County Health Scholar has helped her decide to pursue a career in health care after she graduates high school, and she attributes a large part of that decision to the shadowing opportunities she took advantage of.

“I’d say to any of the scholars coming after us that if you have a chance to shadow, go for it. It opens up a different view of something you might want to do. Besides hearing someone talk about what they do, you can be there to see and know if you want to do it, too.”

She also offered thanks to those who lead the program.

“You opened up so many doors for us,” she said. “You showed us things that we probably wouldn’t have seen if we were just at school on a day-to-day basis, not involved with anything. So thank you for giving us this opportunity.”

The West Alabama Health Scholars programs are a community-based component of The University of Alabama Rural Health Leaders Pipeline, part of the College of Community Health Sciences. The pipeline is a series of programs based at the University that help rural Alabama students prepare for careers in medicine and other health fields and enter practice in rural areas of the state. These programs were created to address the chronic shortage of health professionals in rural and underserved areas of Alabama.

 

Hale County Health Scholars graduates:

Moesha Gaitor, Greensboro High School

Zoshsha Hamilton, Greensboro High School

Bethany Lewis, Hale County High School

Gabrielle Owens, Sunshine High School

Katelyn Price, Hale County High School

Jackson Seale, Hale County High School

Kia Skipper, Greensboro High School

Shaquila Washington, Sunshine High School

Caleb Wyatt, Hale County High School