November 14, 2011


Senior vice president and dean Ray Watts

As I have traveled the state and region visiting with alumni, many have asked me the same question: Has the School of Medicine admissions process changed over the years?

My answer is yes. The admissions process has changed because health care and practicing medicine have changed. We must prepare our students for rapidly evolving careers that require flexibility, collaboration, resourcefulness, intellect, technological skill, and above all, leadership.

I want to commend our admissions committee for their work, because they do not have an easy job. Each year, thousands of smart, highly qualified students apply to our school, and this committee—which includes academic leaders and private-practice physicians, many of whom are our alumni, representing nearly 30 specialties and communities throughout the state—reviews each application and letter of recommendation, and then conducts extensive interviews with the top prospects.


Nathan Smith

Balance of Skills

Dr. Nathan Smith, our assistant dean for admissions, says that each applicant must demonstrate that he or she has the intellectual skills and academic background required for medical school. Just as important, however, applicants have to demonstrate their commitment to a health care career. The committee wants to see students who aren’t waiting until medical school to gain medical and research experience, and who have dedicated their time to help people in need through service and volunteer activities. Students also must show evidence of critical thinking, personal growth and maturity, and an excitement for knowledge. Together, these attributes help identify individuals with integrity, conscientiousness, and the ability to learn and provide care in a variety of settings. They help answer the question “Who would be the best physician?”

It’s also important for students to have an understanding of diverse experiences and perspectives. Because our mission is to prepare physicians to serve Alabama, our student body must reflect all of Alabama. When students from different backgrounds work and learn together, they gain an understanding of the factors—social, cultural, and economic—that shape the needs of patients and their access to care. In the end, that helps every student become a better physician.

Easing the Financial Burden of Medical Education

After they are accepted to medical school, these students may need help with funding their education. Scholarships help ease the significant financial burden that they face while encouraging them to focus on their studies and on working toward their career goals. I recently received several notes from students thanking the School of Medicine for their scholarships and the opportunities they have provided. I want to share them with you because you truly deserve their thanks. Your contributions make these scholarships possible, and in turn, help our students gain the knowledge they need to serve their future patients.

You can help us ensure that we admit and retain an excellent group of students. I invite you to learn more about School of Medicine scholarships, particularly the Medical Alumni Association/Dean of Medicine Scholarship Fund, in which the School of Medicine will match each alumni contribution dollar for dollar.

Alan Dimick, Paul Nagrodski, and Gerhard Boehm at the recent alumni reception in Birmingham. See a photo slideshow from the event.

Honoring a Visionary

I am also excited to announce that we have named our Internal Medicine Residency Program for Dr. Tinsley Harrison, a medical legend and perhaps Alabama’s most famous physician. We will be one of the few medical schools in the nation with a named residency program, and it is fitting that we honor a visionary who inspired many careers and helped to put our medical school on the map for training and patient care.

Thank you for the input, feedback, and questions you have sent my way over the past year. Your opinions and insights are very important, and your participation makes me proud to work with alumni who remain dedicated to the success of their school. I look forward to hearing from you via email at