BCBS Primary Care 275x275Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama gives scholarships to train primary care physicians.The majority of Alabama’s counties do not have enough primary care physicians to meet the needs of their residents. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, under the federal definition of Health Professional Shortage Areas, 62 of Alabama’s 67 counties have a primary care shortage. To help tackle the issue, the UAB School of Medicine and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama have created a program to increase the number of physicians practicing in rural parts of the state.

Blue Cross is giving UAB $3.6 million to train a total of 60 primary care physicians. The physicians will return to practice in a county with a primary care shortage after they complete their residencies. The scholarship will pay the tuition for up to 12 third- and fourth-year students each year for five years.

“Every Alabamian should have access to high-quality primary care. Partnering with UAB will provide primary care services to more Alabamians in rural areas,” says Tim Vines, president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama. “Recent studies show having access to primary care results in improved health outcomes and lower health care spending. This investment validates our long-term commitment to providing Alabamians access to the quality health care they need.”

The inaugural 2018-2019 class of scholarship recipients includes Chelsea Clark, Sara Frese, Tanner Hallman, Mary Ingram, Savannah Johnson, Alex Kearns, Clinton Kilcrease, Joshua Price, Zoza Spears, and Hannah Zahedi. They will be required to practice in the counties where they are placed for three years after their residencies, with the hope they will remain in those counties after the end of their commitment.

“As someone originally from the small town of Demopolis in Marengo County, I’m especially excited that our expertly trained physicians will soon be serving in communities that need them so desperately,” says Selwyn Vickers, M.D., senior vice president for Medicine and dean of the UAB School of Medicine. “The students in this program will be the ‘boots on the ground’ in the communities where individuals need advocates and knowledgeable medical professionals right now.”

Clark, one of the scholarship recipients, agrees with Vickers, noting that supporting medical students in their pursuit of primary care will enable them to better care for underserved populations in the future. She also says this scholarship reflects a trend in medicine toward preventive care.

UAB MedicalStudentsRecipients of the new Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama Primary Care Scholarship include (front row left to right) Mary Ingram, Hannah Zahedi, Zoza Spears, and Sara Frese, and (back row left to right) Joshua Price, Clinton Kilcrease, Alex Kearns, Chelsea Clark, and Tanner Hallman (not pictured: Savannah Johnson). Photo courtesy of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama.“I think our health care system is back to focusing on preventive rather than interventional care—for example, helping a patient with high cholesterol keep it at bay so it does not turn into a massive stroke,” explains Clark.

“One of the ways we do this is by investing in training future primary care physicians. They will help ensure patients get this care early on.”

The limited number of health care providers in rural parts of the state has resulted in poor health outcomes that are not currently improving with the existing physician workforce. William Curry, M.D., senior vice president for population health for UAB Health System and the associate dean of rural and primary care, notes the lack of access to health care also hurts Alabama’s workforce and limits the state’s ability to attract new businesses and industries.

“Placing an additional 60 primary care physicians in areas with shortages will diminish health disparities,” Curry says. “It will lessen the burden of disease and reduce the number of preventable deaths in our state.”

The School of Medicine also operates two other educational programs designed to recruit and train primary care physicians specifically for future rural Alabama practice: the Rural Medical Scholars Program and the Rural Medicine Program. The Rural Medical Scholars Program is a joint program of the School of Medicine and the University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences, which serves as the UAB School of Medicine Tuscaloosa Regional Campus. The Rural Medicine Program is conducted by the UAB School of Medicine Huntsville Regional Medical Campus and Auburn University’s College of Sciences and Mathematics.

To learn more about giving to scholarships or primary care, contact Jessica Brooks Lane at 205-975-4452 or jblane@uab.edu.edu

By Holly Gainer