Rural Medical Scholars Recognized at Convocation

May 6, 2021

Ten students studying to become physicians and practice in rural Alabama communities were recognized April 30 at a convocation for the Rural Medical Scholars program.

The program, now in its 25th year, is operated by The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences and the UAB School of Medicine.

The Rural Medical Scholars 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 UAB School of Medicine.

Rural Medical Scholars spend the first two years of medical school at the main UAB campus in Birmingham and then return to CCHS for their final two years of clinical education. The 10 Rural Medical Scholars recognized last month begin medical school this summer.

“All your efforts are about to pay off,” Dr. Holly McCaleb, assistant director of Rural Programs, said in welcoming remarks. She acknowledged the difficulties Rural Medical Scholars had to navigate this past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “You had to adapt to online learning and new styles of teaching, and you did it with ease, pressing on and preserving.”

The Rural Medical Scholars Program is the culmination of a pipeline of College programs that supports rural Alabama high school and college students interested in pursuing health care professions.

The pipeline also includes the Rural Community Health Scholars Program for Alabama college graduates interested in health professions. Rural Community Health Scholars complete the year of studies with the Rural Medical Scholars and receive a master’s degree in Rural Community Health. Many enter nursing, physician assistant and other allied health programs and professions.

Dr. Jim Leeper, CCHS professor emeritus and medical director of the Rural Medical Scholars Program, said to date, half of all Rural Medical Scholars Program graduates have chosen family medicine as their practice area, and 82% are practicing in Alabama, the majority in rural communities where there is a shortage of primary-care physicians. The younger Rural Community Health Scholars Program has graduated 53 students who have gone on to be nurse practitioners, medical assistants or to doctoral programs, Leeper said.

Dr. Drake Lavender, director of Rural Programs and a graduate of the first Rural Medical Scholars Program class, congratulated the students for excelling despite a pandemic. He said they are well prepared for medical school. And he challenged them to do better than his class of eight members, of which seven chose primary-care specialties and four chose rural practice.

“I want to see all of you in primary care. That’s where the need is,” he said.

During the convocation, the Rural Medical Scholars Program Distinguished Service Award was presented to Dr. Daniel Avery for his “outstanding commitment to rural health care.” Avery is professor emeritus of community medicine and population health and professor and chair emeritus of OB/GYN at CCHS. Prior to joining the College, he was a practicing ob/gyn in rural Alabama for many years.

“There’s no other program that has been as excellent in training primary care physicians as this program,” Avery said. “You are well prepared, and I wish you well.”

2020-21 Rural Medical Scholars:

2020-21 Rural Community Health Scholar: