The Rural Medical Scholars Program at The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences celebrated a milestone at its convocation in May – the 20th anniversary of the program, which is designed for rural Alabama students who want to become physicians and practice in rural communities.
“We are celebrating our 20 years, and recognizing students who are finishing the program this year and heading to medical school,” Dr. Jim Leeper, a professor of Community and Rural Medicine who works closely with the program, said as he welcomed graduates, their families and guests May 1 at the Hotel Capstone on the UA campus.
Eight Rural Medical Scholars graduated this year. Alumni of the two-decades-old program were also honored with a reception that preceded the convocation.
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 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.
Dr. Kevin Leon, associate dean for Undergraduate Medical Education at the School of Medicine, provided the convocation address. He spoke to students about the importance of primary care, the area of medicine that many Rural Medical Scholars choose to practice, and the privilege of serving patients, sharing some of his own experiences.
“What sets a primary care physician apart from other physicians are the relationships that are built,” Leon said. “Being present at the beginning of a new life, caring for a person throughout their life, rejoicing with patients, crying with patients and being there at the end of their lives to help them with that transition. What a privilege that is.”
He said primary care physicians also need to be active proponents for health. “Our responsibility to our patients, their families and our society is to go further – as advocates for health care in our communities and the nation.”
Dr. Drake Lavender, an assistant professor in the College’s Department of Family Medicine and the first graduate of the Rural Medical Scholars Program, also spoke at the convocation. He noted that many Rural Medical Scholar graduates hold leadership positions in state and national medical and teaching organizations. Lavender currently serves as president of the Alabama Academy of Family Physicians. “I didn’t anticipate that leadership would be part of my responsibilities, but you need to. We need people to come behind us with leadership abilities.”
Also during the convocation, the Rural Medical Scholars Program Distinguished Service Award was presented to Dr. Jim Coleman, director of the Office of Family Health, Education, and Research at the UAB Huntsville regional campus of the School of Medicine. Coleman was founding director of the Rural Medicine Program, a sister program to the Rural Medical Scholars Program that was established at Auburn University and the Huntsville regional campus.
“There is no greater honor than to be recognized by students and your peers and by the program that started it all,” Coleman said in reference to the Rural Medical Scholars Program.
The Rural Medical Scholars Alumni Award for Outstanding Rural Medical Educator, presented for the first time, was awarded to Dr. John Brandon, a long-time family physician in Gordo, Ala., who has served as a preceptor to medical students and family medicine residents.
Graduating members of the 20th class of Rural Medical Scholars:
Anooshah Ata of Scottsboro
Helen Cunningham of Fairhope
Tanner Hallman of Arab
Gloria McWhorter of Pike Road
Carson Perrella of Salem
John Pounders of Leighton
Jayla Robinson of Addison
Harriet Washington of Carrollton