May 6, 2019
Four participants of the Rural Medical Scholars Program have graduated from the University of Alabama School of Medicine and will proceed to enter The University of Alabama Family Medicine Residency this summer. Jacob Guin, Josh Price, Crystal Skinner and Hannah Zahedi will be the largest group of Rural Medical Scholars to complete the program in a number of years.
They each said it is in part due to the camaraderie and support system developed through the RMS year at UA.
“Even though I haven’t known them a long time, I feel like I have. We push each other to be better. It’s advantageous to know you are not alone. You have a network of people who can help you out,” Guin said.
Guin, Price, Zahedi and Skinner are nearing completion of medical school. They plan to complete residency at the UA Family Medicine Residency, which is operated by the College, and practice family medicine in rural West Alabama in places such as Coker and Marion. The program is an eight-year educational commitment which includes a year to earn a master’s degree, four years of medical school, and three years of residency. Since 1996, 128 scholars have finished their medical education and residency with current information showing 101 of those practicing in Alabama.
“Staying here for residency just felt right,” Skinner said. She said she intends to practice in Moundville. “It’s (RMS program) my home. It’s a great program. The people here are my home.”
The RMS program has undergone several changes since its creation in 1996. Notably, it has seen an increase in the difficulty of course material to better prepare students for the rigorous coursework in medical school. Each of the four agreed that this would have been beneficial to them during their transition from undergraduate courses to medical school in Birmingham.
Dr. James Leeper and Susan Guin, interim co-directors of the program, said the first group that has gone through the advanced curriculum is reporting that the materials have been incredibly beneficial to them in the first years of medical school. The students are now able to compete with the students coming into the medical school from pre-med undergraduate programs.
“The RMS program really helped with enrichment opportunities,” said Price. He was introduced to the program through a former Rural Medical Scholar, Terry James. “I think it has helped to set me up to succeed in my career, beyond residency, through the contacts I have made.”
One aspect of the program that makes it unique is the access to faculty and staff of the College of Community Health Sciences, where the RMS programs is housed, and communities. Program participants meet and work with the CCHS physicians they will study with during their time in the UA Family Medicine Residency. Additionally, they visit the communities where they will ideally practice after residency to meet the people and make lasting connections with staff and mentors in the rural areas.
“Geography does help me establish a better relationship with my patients knowing their landmarks. I’ve visited there. I’ve seen their home and community,” Zahedi said. She said being able to do this strengthens her ability to gain patients trust.
Farm visits, physician introductions and a community atmosphere provided by the RMS program contributed to each of the four scholars continuing their education at CCHS. They would each recommend the path they chose to anyone following in their footsteps.
Leeper and Susan Guin said the RMS program’s progress will be seen in the coming years as the changes that have been made to the program come to fruition in the next few years. Having revitalized the program curriculum, Leeper and Guin plan to concentrate on awareness and recruiting to bolster the community of Rural Medical Scholars.
“This program is important,” Jake Guin said. “It serves a vital purpose. It has done what it said it would do. It needs to stay viable. It needs continued support and improvement. It never stops.”