The Road to Residency

February 4, 2014

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Senior vice president and dean Selwyn Vickers

While the excitement and anticipation of the holidays has receded for most of us, fourth-year medical students across the country still have one last package to open this spring. Match Day is coming up quickly, on March 21, and I’m sure that many of you vividly recall the emotions and feelings that these students are experiencing. January and February bring them closer to the end of a long journey full of inspiring possibilities and tough choices.

At the School of Medicine, we are completing our interviews with many of these potential residents, and selecting the best and brightest is no simple task. To give you just one example, more than 800 medical students applied for seven positions in our General Surgery Residency Program, according to Dr. John Porterfield, its director. It’s clear that the next generation of physicians understands the value—and the transformational potential—of a UAB medical education, but how do we choose among them? What gives an applicant an edge?

Dr. Lisa Willett, director of the Tinsley Harrison Internal Medicine Residency Program at UAB, says that her program seeks individuals with a passion for both the science and the art of medicine. She wants to see students who can use their intelligence, clinical reasoning, and dedication while demonstrating empathy and compassion. In other words, she wants residents who understand patients as people rather than as diagnoses or illnesses. Dr. Porterfield explains that he and his colleagues look for a sustained track record of honesty, a meticulous approach to compassionate surgical care, an inborn drive, and examples of times when students combined insight with knowledge to lead and succeed. In short, it’s a blend of achievements and character that makes a student a perfect fit for one of UAB’s residency programs.

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Dr. Amber Gordon

Choice Programs

At the same time that students are competing for our residency slots, we are competing to be at the top of their Match lists. Recalling her path to UAB from Tennessee, Dr. Amber Gordon, chief resident in the Department of Neurosurgery, explains that students are most curious about both the training and the quality of life they will experience—particularly in her specialty, where residency now lasts for seven years.

Dr. Gordon says she was drawn to the neurosurgery curriculum, which focuses on evidence-based medicine and offers a variety of opportunities for self-directed learning, as well as UAB’s patient pathology, hands-on clinical and basic science research, and well-rounded residents. In addition, Birmingham’s amenities and low cost of living compared to other cities make it attractive to residents who are starting families. She says that the people, lifestyle, and location give UAB’s neurosurgery residency a distinct advantage over other programs, and I believe the same to be true of all of our residency programs in every field.

The Cost of Excellence

Providing residents with a challenging, invigorating educational experience requires substantial and continuous investment. While we receive reimbursements for a majority of residency positions from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Congressionally mandated caps on the funding mean that UAB Medicine, the School of Medicine, and individual departments and divisions must cover the remaining costs of training. Each program also must shoulder additional costs for educational materials, travel for residents conducting research, and activities such as recruitment and conference support.

Dr. Gustavo Heudebert, assistant dean for graduate medical education, notes that we should not expect increases in CMS reimbursement in the future, despite the rising costs of educating the next generation of physicians. We must rely on philanthropy to fill the widening gap. With a gift to the residency program of your choice, you can help today’s medical students become tomorrow’s specialists, providing them with the resources they need to become skilled, successful health professionals. Your support also ensures that the School of Medicine remains a destination for top residents from Alabama and around the country—and could even help encourage them to stay in the state to practice in our communities. Your contributions, combined with our own investments, will magnify the opportunities for our trainees to transform health care.

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Dr. Jim Pittman, School of Medicine dean from 1973 to 1992. Photo courtesy of UAB Archives.

Remembering a Transformational Leader

We might never have met Dr. Jim Pittman if not for a School of Medicine residency. He arrived in Birmingham in 1952 to study under the legendary Dr. Tinsley Harrison. Here Dr. Pittman became chief resident before joining the faculty, where he eventually became one of our longest-serving deans, from 1973 to 1992.

The School of Medicine, UAB, and countless physicians and scientists owe much of their success to Dr. Pittman. He recruited world-renowned leaders in clinical care and research and challenged students to explore the frontiers of medical knowledge—in part by restoring a four-year curriculum, providing opportunities for students to pursue research and service activities, and creating Medical Student Research Day, an initiative that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. He also made key breakthroughs in the field of thyroid physiology and disease, an area of interest he shared with his endocrinologist wife, the late Dr. Constance Pittman, herself a UAB legend.

Sadly, Dr. Pittman passed away earlier this month, and our hearts go out to his two sons, other family members, friends, and colleagues. We will forever appreciate his efforts to shape the School of Medicine into a shining example of excellence in patient care, discovery, and service, not only in Alabama but throughout the world.

Dr. Pittman’s family suggests that gifts made in his memory go to the Dr. James A. Pittman, Jr., Memorial Fund at the School of Medicine, c/o Virginia Gilbert Loftin, FOT 1230, 1720 2nd Ave. S., Birmingham, AL 35294-3412; (205) 975-5659; or via UAB Online Giving. A service to honor Dr. Pittman’s life is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on February 6 at Cathedral Church of the Advent, 2017 6th Ave. N., with a visitation at 1:00 p.m.

As we bid farewell to Dr. Pittman, we also promise to uphold his legacy, reaching for new, higher goals in the lab, the clinic, the classroom, and the community. Working together, all of us—residents, students, faculty, alumni, and friends—will continue to make Dr. Pittman proud of his School of Medicine.


Sincerely,

Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., F.A.C.S.
James C. Lee Endowed Chair

Senior Vice President and Dean