January 5, 2011

Dr. Buggs and Dr. Watts

Medical Alumni Association president Theodis Buggs Jr. with senior vice president and dean Ray Watts

One of our biggest challenges in 2011 is a familiar one: Alabama’s shortage of primary care physicians.

Many of you who responded to our online survey—or with whom I have spoken at our alumni receptions in Birmingham and Mobile or at the December meeting of the Alabama Academic Family Medicine Council—mentioned the need for additional primary care physicians in your communities.

Dr. Bill Curry, our associate dean for primary care and rural health, recently shared with us a Health Resources and Services Administration study that identifies a primary care shortage in nearly all of Alabama’s rural counties. To fill the gap, we need a minimum of 140 additional physicians, but that would mean only one primary care physician for every 3,500 people. To provide optimal care, we must have nearly 400 additional providers.

The demand for primary care physicians will rise as our aging population requires more care to manage complex and chronic diseases. Health-care reform also will increase the need for access and will place a greater focus on primary care physicians as patient care leaders.

Our Primary Care Plan

To help meet this growing need, our School of Medicine must take the lead, and we are developing a strategic plan for that purpose.

Set to launch in mid-2011 after a comprehensive planning process led by Dr. Curry and Dr. Michael Harrington, chair of our Department of Family and Community Medicine, this plan will complement our new research and education strategies as well as the UAB Health System’s strategic plan for clinical care. It will focus on recruiting students into our primary care and rural scholars programs as well as internal medicine, pediatrics, med/peds, and ob/gyn, and leveraging the strength of our branch campuses and residency programs in Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, and Selma.

In addition to preparing the best physicians for primary care practice, we also must encourage these new doctors to remain in Alabama. With our plan, we will develop programs, partnerships, and technologies to deliver education and resources to primary care physicians in communities across the state and support the expert patient care they provide.

One of our school's key responsibilities is to train outstanding physicians to care for the people of Alabama, and this plan will help us fulfill that role. I look forward to sharing more details with you in the coming months.

Click to hear Dean Watts discuss his vision for primary care.

Honoring a Legend

For several years, the Medical Alumni Association and the School of Medicine have worked together to establish an endowed faculty position in memory of Dr. Tinsley Harrison, whose impact on UAB and on the field of internal medicine is legendary. Today the Dr. Tinsley R. Harrison Endowed Professorship in Medical Resident Education, created through gifts from our alumni and the Department of Medicine, is held by Gustavo Heudebert, M.D., director of our internal medicine residency program.

I am pleased to report that we continue to make progress toward the ultimate goal of $1.5 million, which will allow us to convert the professorship into an endowed chair. Thanks to gifts received through our recent alumni phonathon campaign, we are less than $80,000 from our goal.

We appreciate the MAA's leadership on this project, and we look forward to celebrating its completion.


Dean Watts with Dr. and Mrs. Gerhard Boehm. Click to see a photo slideshow of Dean Watts's alumni reception in Mobile.

A Partnership for Growth

I encourage you to join our efforts, and I look forward to meeting many of you this month at our alumni receptions in Montgomery and Huntsville. At these receptions, I look forward to telling you more about our strategic plans, our goals for growth, and how you can be a part of your School of Medicine’s exciting future. And I will be listening for your ideas and feedback as we move forward together.