UAB Magazine Weekly - Features on Campus Life
The Challenge of Fighting Disease in Medical School
By Carla Jean Whitley
Students have a million different motivations for pursuing a medical degree—a desire to help people, an aptitude for science, or inspiration to follow in the footsteps of a family member or childhood physician, perhaps. But for three current UAB School of Medicine students, the reasons suddenly shifted in midstream when disease became a harsh reality instead of a case study.
Encounters with Empathy
Sarah Gammons began dropping weight, experiencing night sweats, and feeling fatigued during her first year of medical school—and she was certain it wasn’t from stress. “I had a great doctor at the UAB student health clinic who kept looking when every test came back normal,” she says. He sent her to an endocrinologist who diagnosed Gammon with medullary thyroid cancer.
“I started doing research on thyroid nodules in a textbook and a database we use in school,” Gammons recalls. “Medullary thyroid cancer only occurs in 4 percent of people with thyroid cancer; 50 percent of those are genetic, but mine’s sporadic. It was a one in a million chance that I would get this disease at my age.”
She had a radical neck dissection and total thyroidectomy, but “you’re never cured of this type of cancer because there’s no treatment,” she explains. “It’s a chronic disease; every six months, the doctors monitor two hormone levels which are perfect markers for the disease to see if it comes back.”
Despite the surgery and recovery, Gammons was able to stay on track toward her medical degree. The school allowed her to make up work during the summer, and classmates took time away from their break to tutor her. “At the end of the day, I had school to fall back on,” Gammons says. “Throwing myself into my work helped to take my mind off all the bad stuff.”
By Susannah Felts
When Paul Janeway (above, left) walks onstage, audiences snap to attention. They stand up, they get down, they holler and shake as Janeway, a bespectacled blond clad in one of his father’s old suits, and his bandmates—a.k.a. St. Paul and the Broken Bones—crank out one soulful song after the next. Janeway might pause to mop his brow with a towel or bust dance moves that have earned comparisons to none other than James Brown, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business. “A little hyperbolic,” he says. “But I’ll take it.”
Not bad for a 28-year-old UAB accounting student, who seems thrilled and surprised by the turn his life has taken in recent months.
UAB Graduates in Action
UAB’s network of alumni is more than 115,000 strong, notes President Watts, himself a UAB alumnus (class of 1976). There are now more than 10,000 members of the UAB National Alumni Society, meeting in more than 60 chapters worldwide.
“Our alumni are our best ambassadors,” Watts says. “They know from experience what a difference UAB can make in a person’s life, and we want to do everything we can to support the UAB family.”
Be inspired by alumni who are using the knowledge they gained at UAB to change the world:
Regina Benjamin, a beloved physician turned surgeon general of the United States;
Luther Beegle, who helps run NASA’s Curiosity rover as it searches for life on Mars;
and members of Teach for America, who put their careers on hold for two years after college to work in underserved schools.
Community Outreach at UAB
“Each year, UAB researchers generate thousands of studies that can point the way to new treatments for a host of diseases,” says President Watts. “But those data do no good if they stay in the lab and never make it out into doctor’s offices and patients’ homes.”
UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center has set the model for a growing number of comprehensive centers at UAB—tackling diabetes, heart disease, neuroscience, transplantation, and more—whose mission is to take research from the lab bench to patient bedsides and beyond.
The Cancer Center and UAB’s Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center (MHRC) conduct life-saving patient education efforts in Alabama’s Black Belt. Their work has dramatically improved mammography rates, provided counseling for rural cancer survivors, and connected church congregations with trained health educators, for instance. The MHRC has reached out to Birmingham residents with free screenings and health information at HealthSmart, run out of a storefront downtown.
Outreach efforts are thriving across campus. The nationally recognized science education programs offered by the UAB Center for Community OutReach Development (CORD) have helped more than 50,000 students get excited about science and math careers. ArtReach, an educational arm of UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center, is bringing classes in art, dance, music, and more to YWCAs, senior centers, and more venues in Birmingham’s Woodlawn neighborhood and other areas.
Discover UAB’s growing links with the neighboring Woodlawn and Avondale neighborhoods in “Good Neighbors”:
Learn how UAB professors give back at a local maximum-security prison in “Life Sentences”:
Education at UAB
Enrollment at UAB has set new records for four consecutive years, with a combined graduate and undergraduate enrollment of 17,999. “Those students are attracted by the reputations of our world-class programs,” says President Watts.
Through its 10 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences, UAB offers a total of 137 degrees, several of which—including biomedical engineering and industrial distribution—are unique in Alabama.
In the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings of America’s top graduate schools, UAB had several programs among the nation’s top 10—including health-care management, primary care, AIDS, nursing service administration, and nursing practitioner (adult)—and 14 programs in the top 25.
Undergraduates can take advantage of accelerated learning opportunities in UAB’s Honors College, which has served as a national model of integrative learning and experiential education for more than 25 years. They can also expand their horizons by meeting fellow students from more than 100 nations on campus. For four consecutive years, UAB has been named among the top 10 universities nationally for diversity by The Princeton Review.
UAB’s classrooms don’t end at the edge of campus. The university currently has 11 fully online programs, including bachelor’s degrees in accounting and health information management; master’s degrees in accounting, nursing, health informatics, and engineering; and certificates in public health and low vision rehabilitation.
Learn why UAB students regularly earn top scholarships in “Winning Team,” a UAB Magazine feature on the university’s proven system to help students get the funding they need to follow their dreams:
Lister Hill Library director T. Scott Plutchak explains why “this is the best time to be a librarian in 500 years” in “Turning a Page,” a UAB Magazine feature on the role of libraries in the 21st century: