Meeting the Fellows: Courtney

My name is Courtney and I am originally from a large suburb of Chicago called Naperville, Illinois. I graduated summa cum laude from The University of Alabama in May 2016 with a BS in biology and a BA in psychology. I will start medical school in the fall of 2017, though I haven’t yet decided where I will attend! During my undergraduate career at UA, I studied neurodegenerative disorders, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, under Dr. Kimberlee Caldwell. My research has been published, and I was named a Goldwater Scholar in 2015. Research is one of my truest passions, so I’m interested in a career in academic medicine. This career would allow me to serve my community as a physician, an educator and a medical researcher.

The project that I have been working on this year is nutrition education. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 35.7 percent of American adults are obese. In the state of Alabama, the percentage of obese adults is even higher than the national average, and the percentage of obese adults is still higher in Pickens County. In Pickens County, I am teaching basic nutrition education, like how to read and interpret a food label, to high schoolers and children aged 9-14. In addition to the nutrition education, my project has a cooking component in which I get to teach students how to prepare recipes that are easy, healthy and affordable.

We have made many different recipes over the last few months, but a favorite for the kids was the Caesar Pasta Salad. We prepared this recipe after I gave a lecture on carbohydrates. I try to make my lectures fun and engaging so that students retain and understand the relevance of the material. A few weeks ago, when we were talking about sugar, the high school students engaged in a debate on a soda tax that recently went into effect in California. I try to teach them things that will be useful when they’re at the store; one thing that many students were shocked to learn was that orange juice, which many people drink as a “healthy” alternative to soda, has nearly the same amount of sugar as soda does! They’ve learned that there is a direct correlation between sugar consumption and obesity, so hopefully they’ll rethink their drink choices when they’re in the cafeteria.

My time working with the UA-Pickens County Partnership has been the single-most transformative experience of my life. Working in Pickens County has been an unparalleled introduction to serving the medically underserved, which is something that I hope to do for the rest of my life. I have learned specifically that people lack the resources, not the willpower, to make healthy decisions and that is something that I will remember in my future career as a physician. I can now appreciate that the social determinants of health are just as important as the physiological determinants of health that we commonly associate with medicine, and that a person is so much more than their medical chart makes them out to be.

I am grateful for my time so far in Pickens County this year and I cannot wait for new students and more organizations to work with next semester!