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SOM logoThe newest group of Dean’s Primary Care Scholars in the UAB School of Medicine has been named. Seven first-year medical students from the Birmingham campus and each of the School of Medicine’s three regional campuses were selected for the honor. They are:

Birmingham: Sadhvi Batra, Kendall McPheeters

Huntsville: Chelsea Clark, Andrea Pittman

Montgomery: Russell Marsh

Tuscaloosa: Chelsea Palmer, Hannah Zahedi

The Dean’s Primary Care Scholars Program is a longitudinal, merit-based scholars program designed to promote and foster interest in primary care with the goal of developing future physician leaders in primary care. It includes a scholarship of $5,000 for the first year and $10,000 for each successive academic year involved in the program. To be eligible for the program, students must be in academic good standing, must show an interest in primary care, and must demonstrate an understanding of service and its importance to medicine.

 Salser wPrimary Care Scholars 2015.2016 webDr. B. Earl Salser Jr. with the 2015/2016 class of Dean's Primary Care Scholars.“The purpose is to provide academic enrichment experiences, dedicated mentoring, and financial incentives to foster and maintain these students’ interest in primary care,” says B. Earl Salser Jr., M.D., associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine and director of the Dean’s Primary Care Scholars Program. “We have monthly meetings to help develop their understanding of the value of primary care, provide them with extra workshops to develop their clinical skills, and connect them to primary care physicians in the community to help give them vision of what their future medical career might look like. We also work to provide experiences nationally around advocacy, and to provide them with service learning opportunities where they can see how primary care can impact underserved communities in the state and throughout the world.”

“The community aspect is what really interests me about primary care,” says Primary Care Scholar Chelsea Clark. “Because primary care physicians have the unique opportunity to see their patients on a regular basis, oftentimes following them throughout their lives, healthy and sick, they can better incorporate themselves into the community through the familiarity they have garnered.”

“Being chosen as one of the Dean's Primary Care Scholars is a tremendous honor,” says Primary Care Scholar Russell Marsh. “The recipients are very motivated and intelligent students, and I am humbled having been selected with them. Being a Primary Care Scholar means honing my focus on primary care through extracurricular activities such as conferences, workshops, and student groups. It also means promoting the joy of primary care to fellow students.”

The Dean’s Primary Care Scholars Program is part of a larger primary care strategy designed by William A. Curry, M.D., FACP, professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine and associate dean for primary care and rural health in the School of Medicine, and T. Michael Harrington, M.D., former chair of the UAB Department of Family and Community Medicine. Primary care is one of the objectives of AMC 21, UAB Medicine’s strategic plan to become the preferred academic medical center of the 21st Century.

There are several reasons for the increased focus on primary care in medical schools. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States will face a shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians by 2020. “Primary care is considered the base of any medical system,” says Salser. “For a medical system to thrive you need a strong base of primary care physicians to stabilize the entire system. What we’re seeing is a shortage of primary care doctors due to the aging out of many of the current primary care physicians nationally.”

This is coming at a time when changes to the health care system broadly—chief among them the Affordable Care Act—have expanded access to health care for millions of Americans. “We’re at a point where the system is theoretically supposed to provide coverage for more people,” Salser says. “The challenge is we don’t have enough primary care doctors to provide that coverage.”

In addition, Salser says there has traditionally been a lack of emphasis on primary care in medical schools. Based on data, “If there’s no exposure to primary care until the third or fourth year, students begin to focus on other specialties and lose their initial interest in primary care fields.”

So far, the program has succeeded in its goal of fostering and maintaining students’ interest in primary care. The inaugural group of Dean’s Primary Care Scholars, who were selected for the program in 2013, graduated this May. “We were very proud to see that all of them matched into a primary care specialty,” says Salser. “Four students went into family medicine, one went into pediatrics, and one went into internal medicine.”

To learn more about primary care initiatives at the UAB School of Medicine, click here. To learning more about giving to support primary care at the UAB School of Medicine, or to give online, click here or contact Jessica Brooks Lane at (205) 975-4452 or jblane@uab.edu.