September 1, 2015The 20th class of the Rural Medical Scholars Program was admitted by The University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences, and a day of orientation was held for them and this year’s class of Rural Community Health Scholars (master’s degree candidates in Rural Community Health) on Aug.18 at Camp Tuscoba Retreat Center in Northport. The orientation was more than introductions and program expectations—it was the starting point of a year of anticipation and preparation to pursue their goals, says Susan Guin, associate director of the Rural Medical Scholars Program. “This coming year will be a time of developing lasting relationships with their peers and mentors who will be a source of friendship and support as they continue their education and into their careers,” says Guin. “Through the years, this support has come in many forms and from many sources, so we invite partners from around the state to join us in welcoming the newest class of Scholars.” The College works to address the shortage of primary care physicians in Alabama through the Rural Medical Scholars Program, which is for rural Alabama students who want to become physicians and practice in rural communities. The program 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. 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 the College for their final two years of clinical education. The College will celebrate the program’s milestone with special events throughout the year. Members of the Rural Medical Scholars 20th class are: Anooshah Ata, from Scottsboro; Helen Cunningham, from Barnwell; Tanner Hallman, of Arab; Storm McWhorter, Prattville; Carson Perrella, Salem; Johnson (John) Pounders, Leighton; Jayla Robinson, Addison; and Harriet Washington, from Carrollton. The Rural Community Health Scholars Program is for graduate students not enrolled in the Rural Medical Scholars Program who are interested in health care careers. The program prepares students to assume leadership roles in community health in rural areas. The graduates of the program have entered the fields of public health, health administration, nursing and physical therapy, and they have continued their professional training to become nurse practitioners, physician assistants, public health practitioners, physicians, teachers and researchers. Rural Community Health Scholars this year are: Januar Page Brown, of Enterprise; Amellia Cannon, of Duncanville; Dylan Drinkard, of Thomasville; Caleb Mason, of Guntersville; Johnny Pate, of Moundville; Kristin Pressley, of Harvest; and Jeremy Watson, of Tuscaloosa County. The orientation agenda included an overview of the health needs of rural communities and the mission of the Rural Health Leaders Pipeline, a series of programs that recruit and support rural Alabama students who want to be health care professionals in rural and underserved communities in the state. Each of this year’s Scholars added a colored dot to his or her own home county on oversized maps showing the home counties of past Rural Medical Scholars and Rural Community Health Scholars. Program directors and professors discussed academic expectations and community involvement, which includes recruiting and outreach to rural youth. Students spent time getting to know one another, and they also were introduced to College faculty and faculty from other UA departments associated with the program. Those who came to welcome them from the College included Dr. Richard Streiffer, dean of the College; Dr. Thaddeus Ulzen, associate dean for Academic Affairs; and Dr. Tom Weida, associate dean for Clinical Affairs. Other attendees included: Ron Sparks, director of rural development for Gov. Robert Bentley; Gwen Johnson, Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Agent for Hale and Greene counties; Toice Goodson, Greene County farmer; Regina Knox, Alicia Logan, and Katie Summerville, directors from the West Central Alabama Area Health Education Center; and Joe Anders, president of the Tuscaloosa County Farmers Federation. Visitors from the South Georgia Medical Education and Research Consortium also attended to learn more about implementing a sequence of programs similar to the Rural Health Leaders Pipeline.