TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – A $1.8 million gift from The Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa will be used to create an endowed scholarship fund for rural students enrolled in the Rural Medical Scholars Program, a cooperative effort between The University of Alabama and the University of Alabama School of Medicine.
“Over the last 32 years, the College of Community Health Sciences has been instrumental in identifying barriers to health care in rural Alabama and finding innovative ways to overcome them,” said Dr. E. Eugene Marsh, interim dean. “An excellent example is our Rural Medical Scholars Program, founded and directed by Dr. John Wheat. The RMSP is becoming increasingly recognized nationally as a model program to address a major barrier to rural health care, recruitment of physicians.
“The scholarships provided by Alfa will enhance this program by providing much-needed scholarship support for students who have committed to participate in this program,” Marsh said. “This partnership exemplifies the kind of joint efforts that are critical as we strive to provide accessible quality health care to all Alabamians.”
The goal of the Rural Medical Scholars Program is to produce physicians for rural Alabama who are leaders in community health. The Rural Medical Scholars Program is a special medical education track for rural students who plan to become rural primary care physicians, which begins with a year of special study of rural health issues and community medicine in the College of Community Health Sciences, which is both a college of The University of Alabama and a branch campus of the UASOM headquartered in Birmingham.
“Almost 60 years ago, the Alabama Farmers Federation founded ALFA Insurance to help better serve rural communities,” said Jerry Newby, Alfa president. “By helping educate rural physicians, our company is continuing its legacy of service to farmers and rural Alabamians. The bright young men and women who participate in the Rural Medical Scholars Program will help improve the health of rural people, and by establishing practices in small towns, they will contribute to the economic health of the entire state.”
After their time in Tuscaloosa, Rural Medical Scholars matriculate to medical school at UAB, returning to the Tuscaloosa campus in the last two years of medical school for clinical training that includes a focus on rural primary care. When fully endowed, scholarships will provide support for the pre-matriculation year at UA and four years of medical school for Rural Medical Scholars.
“We are very pleased to be partners with the Alabama Farmers Federation in the effort to improve the quality of life for farm families and rural Alabama,” said Dr. John Wheat, Rural Medical Scholars Program founder. “Future rural physicians, such as Terry James of Winston County, are one component in the overall plan needed to make rural and farm life safe, secure and rewarding to current and future farm families.”
Of the eight members of the first Rural Medical Scholars Program class, five are entering primary care practices in rural communities. Third year medical student Terry James, is a Rural Medical Scholar from Winston County. Dr. Drake Lavender, a Rural Medical Scholar, has recently entered private practice in Gordo. Lavender was in the first class of Rural Medical Scholars in 1996 and was chief resident of the Tuscaloosa Family Practice Residency, from which he graduated in May.
Dr. Anne Davis of Talladega is returning home to Talladega as an internal medicine physician and Dr. Stephanie Morgan is returning to her home county, Cherokee, to begin her family practice in Centre. Dr. Tom Holt of Coffee County, now a family physician, will locate in Jasper. Dr. Angela Wilson of Etowah County plans to enter family practice in Boaz. Dr. Elizabeth Smith of Monroe County will practice pediatrics in nearby Mobile. Two other members of the class will be serving as chief residents of their programs next year (Dr. Paul Tabereaux, internal medicine at Yale, New Haven, Connecticut, and Dr. Kevin Ellis, pediatrics at UAB).
The emphasis at the College of Community Health Sciences is primary care and preparing physicians for rural medical practice. The College provides clinical education for third- and fourth-year medical students and offers specialty training to medical school graduates through its three-year Family Practice Residency Program. The College’s faculty and resident physicians provide medical service to the community at University Medical Center, a multi-specialty clinic located on University Boulevard at Fifth Avenue East.
The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.