Thirty-eight University of Alabama School of Medicine students who will spend their third and fourth years of clinical training at the College of Community Health Sciences recently attended an orientation session at the College, which included site visits to several community health-related and service organizations in Tuscaloosa.
The College serves as one of two regional campuses of the School of Medicine, along with Birmingham and Huntsville. Students complete the first two years of basic sciences at the Birmingham campus, where the School of Medicine is headquartered, and then choose to complete the third and fourth years of the medical school curriculum one of the three campuses.
At the Tuscaloosa campus, clinical education is oriented to primary care while also providing exposure to other specialties and subspecialties. A key part of the College’s mission is improving health care in rural and underserved areas of Alabama, and its academic programs include emphasis on primary care, family medicine and community medicine. Since its founding in 1972, approximately 767 medical students have received their third and fourth years of clinical training at the College, with more than half choosing careers in primary care.
The 38 medical students were welcomed to the College by Heather Taylor, MD, associate director of Medical Student Affairs and an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics.
“Here you get to see what primary care is really like, and that’s important even if you go into another specialty,” Taylor said. “You get to help communities and have an impact. You get to know your faculty and they get to know you.”
The Tuscaloosa program class size is approximately 35 students each year, resulting in a high level of personal interaction among medical students, resident physicians and faculty.
College Dean Richard Streiffer, MD, also addressed the students and spoke about the need for more primary care physicians in Alabama and the value of integrating communities into medical education.
“We view the community to be as important as mastering the basic sciences,” Streiffer said. “We encourage entry into primary care and we will do our best to keep you here because we need you in Alabama.”
Alabama continues to have a serious primary care physician shortage, ranking the state ninth out of 50 in terms of the most underserved states based on Health Professional Shortage Area scores.
As part of their orientation, the students visited several community organizations in Tuscaloosa, including: Caring Days, a day program for adults with Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders; Temporary Emergency Services Inc., which helps individuals and families in crisis situations; and Capstone Village, a retirement living center on The University of Alabama campus.
Students also toured University Medical Center, a large, primary-care group practice the College operates that also serves as a teaching facility for medical students.