May 6, 2019
Ten students who want to become physicians and practice in rural Alabama communities were recognized April 27 at a convocation for the Rural Medical Scholars program, which is operated by the College of Community Health Sciences and the University of Alabama School of Medicine.
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 UA 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 CCHS for their final two years of clinical education. The 10 Rural Medical Scholars begin medical school this summer.
The Rural Medical Scholars program is the culmination of a pipeline of College programs that supports high school and college students interested in pursuing health care professions.
“The College of Community Health Sciences has a long history of excellence, and our rural programs are no different,” interim Dean Dr. Richard Friend said in welcoming remarks at the convocation, held at Hotel Capstone on the UA campus.
He said the College recently invested more than $3 million in new space, which will include rural programs and be completed in 2020. “This will be a state-of-the-art facility that represents our ongoing and continuous committee to rural programs.”
Dr. Lee Carter, a family medicine physician in Autaugaville, Alabama, an alumnus of the Rural Medical Scholars program, gave the convocation keynote address.
“It’s the real deal when you get out there, but you’re ready,” he said.
He urged the Rural Medical Scholars to remember: “Where you are matters. There are not enough people who want to do what we do, to go back and give. You will take care of those who need the most care. What you do matters. You will work hard, and you will be rewarded for what you do.”
Carter completed medical school at the UA School of Medicine and his residency at the UA Family Medicine Residency, which is operated by the College.
More than 200 students have participated in the Rural Medical Scholars program since its founding in 1996, according to Dr. James Leeper, a biostatistician and medical director of the program. Among the graduates of the program, half have chosen family medicine as their practice area, and of those 82% are practicing in Alabama, the majority in rural communities, he said.
“The goal of the Rural Medical Scholars program is to create rural doctors, and we are doing that,” Leeper said.
The Rural Medical Scholars Program Distinguished Service Award was presented during the convocation. This year’s recipient, Dale Quinney, is founder of Operation Save Rural Alabama and past executive director of the Alabama Rural Health Association.
He said Alabama has a serious shortage of primary care physicians, particularly family medicine physicians. The state currently needs 360 strategically placed primary care physicians to alleviate the shortage, he said.
“You are to be this for the future,” Quinney said. “And you have a great future ahead of you.”