Selwyn Vickers 4 LRUnder ordinary circumstances, the School of Medicine would welcome the entering class of MS1s with the White Coat Ceremony this time of year, but, needless to say, circumstances are far from ordinary. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the in-person White Coat Ceremony was postponed. Fortunately, our Medical Education leaders were able to organize a virtual, White Coat Welcome event on August 14, not as a replacement for the full White Coat Ceremony, but as a way to let the students know that we’re excited to start this journey with them. (A full White Coat Ceremony will be held for this year’s entering class before they begin their clinical coursework, prior to their third year.) I was pleased to offer words of advice and encouragement to the class, and was joined by other medical education leaders, including Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education Craig Hoesley, M.D.; Associate Dean for Students Nicholas Van Wagoner, M.D.; and Assistant Dean for Community Engaged Scholarship Caroline Harada, M.D.

This year’s entering class experienced an orientation week unlike any other—a mix of small group, in-person activities and Zoom events. One thing that didn’t change was the class’s first course, Patient, Doctor and Society, which focuses on the role physicians play in society, with an emphasis on professionalism, compassion, responsibility, ethics, and the doctor/patient relationship. This year, the course was conducted entirely via Zoom, except for the anatomy lab section. The course also incorporated more discussion of racism and bias in medicine, a change that was made in response to feedback we received from our students in a series of Racial Justice town halls (see below), and to which the incoming class responded positively. The PDS course also featured several speakers on COVID-19, as the ongoing pandemic offers an ideal lens through which to view a variety of topics the course encompasses, including professionalism, public health, health disparities, and global health.

We also welcomed our newest group of residents in July. A total of 209 new residents, representing 64 U.S. and 24 international universities, began this summer in UAB residency programs in Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery, and Selma. As always, our GME Office worked diligently to ensure that our new residents’ transition to UAB was as seamless and welcoming as possible, even under our current, challenging circumstances.

The pandemic has also affected our interview process, and our admissions office has crafted an Interview Day Guide for the COVID-19 era. It includes links to information and videos about our curriculum and programs, and life as a UAB medical student, as well as tips for preparing for virtual interviews (such as conducting a “tech check” the day before the interview to make sure all audio and video elements work properly). It also includes a link to a guide published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) with tips for virtual interviews. I’d also like to applaud the residency program directors and coordinators across the School of Medicine who are preparing now to conduct virtual residency interviews beginning this fall, finding creative ways to showcase our programs and the cities where they are located while candidates are unable to visit for traditional interviews.

I also want to offer an update on our efforts around racial justice. In June, Dr. Mona Fouad, senior associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion, presented a Racial Justice Response Plan to the School of Medicine leadership team which outlined three phases:

1) listening and information gathering
2) strategy development
3) implementation

We are currently in phase 1, the listening phase, that began with a Forum for Racial Justice on June 10. From the feedback received at that event, and through many leadership discussions, it is clear that we must address issues based on input from the School of Medicine community in our plans moving forward. Therefore, the next part of the listening phase is to gather feedback from students, trainees, faculty, and staff.

We have contracted with an external consulting firm to conduct focus groups in order to gather more information and assist in the development of a comprehensive, long-term plan. The focus groups were conducted earlier this month, and were comprised of a random sampling of employees from each of the constituent groups. We will also administer a school-wide anonymous survey.

These are just the first steps in what will be a very proactive process to listen to the School of Medicine community, gather information, and create and enact a tangible plan of action for addressing issues of racial inequality within the School of Medicine as well as in our greater community. I look forward to sharing those details as they materialize in the coming weeks and months.

Lastly, I’m excited to announce that, next month, the School of Medicine will host the first of a series of new Mini Medical School events. The events are aimed at engaging community members with the School of Medicine and expanding their healthcare knowledge by offering them the opportunity to learn from our world-renowned researchers and physicians. Join me on Tuesday, September 22 from 6-7:30 p.m. for the virtual UAB Mini Medical School: A Closer Look at COVID-19’s Effect on Alabama. Participants will hear about UAB’s response to the pandemic and what we’ve learned from Drs. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases; Mike Saag, associate dean for Global Health in the School of Medicine, director of the UAB Center for AIDS Research, and professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases; and Sarah Nafziger, professor of Emergency Medicine. Then, Drs. Reagan Durant, associate professor in the Division of Preventive Medicine, and Isabel Scarinci, professor in the Division of Preventive Medicine, will discuss the persistent health disparities that the pandemic has highlighted so vividly. Lastly, Dr. Eric Wallace, medical director of Telehealth at UAB, will discuss how the pandemic led to a rapid expansion of telemedicine. Click here to register for the first of many Mini Medical School sessions to come. If you have any questions or would like to know more, please contact Katie Vickery at kvickery@uab.edu.