October 13, 2021

The brand reputation of Birmingham and beyond

Written by

I love my home state of Alabama. I grew up in Greene County, Alabama, which is known today as the Black Belt. My childhood was spent in the rural, segregated South, which—at the time—I didn’t know to be different than anywhere else in the country.

In the early 1970s, after my father graduated in the first cohort of Black/African American men with his Ph.D. from the University of Alabama, my family moved to Huntsville where I was exposed to a different part of Alabama—not just geographically, but in community as well. Huntsville was comprised of racially integrated neighborhoods, an internationally-driven economy, and several highly successful and diverse families from around the country.

In 1994, I moved to Birmingham after my 16 years of training at Johns Hopkins to join the UAB Department of Surgery faculty, where I stayed for twelve years. Then, I spent seven years living in Minnesota. After my time as chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Minnesota I moved back to Birmingham and have lived here since.

From my experience living in multiple parts of the country and Alabama, I know that small and large cities across the state each have something unique to offer. My hope for this state is that Alabamians embrace the challenges of change with curiosity, inclusiveness, and imagination, while overcoming a fear of losing their greater identity. I am proud to work at UAB Medicine and watch our expansion into Alabama’s major cities and small towns. From our large campus in Birmingham to our regional campuses in metro cities and small clinics in rural Alabama, we are a large part of Alabama’s transformation. We have influence in helping the state reckon with the past, acknowledge challenges of the present, and envision an innovative future.

In Birmingham specifically, we have a unique ability to facilitate open conversation and engage in civil dialogue about the troubles we face today and the troubles we have faced in the past. We are willing to wrangle with the worst parts of our history—especially about civil rights, access to health care, and health disparities—and the raw emotions that may come with it. These principles were best highlighted in MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” We continue to deal with our history today, speaking up about racial injustice and actively working to root out inequities across the city. One of our largest focuses in research and patient care at UAB is securing health care for those who have historically been underserved.

I am proud that Birmingham has been under African American/Black political leadership for over 30 years. Program, policy, and infrastructure renovations have been ongoing, and in the most recent past, I see momentum for change like I have never seen before.

Similarly, in Montgomery, the Equal Justice Initiative works on criminal justice reform, racial justice, and enhancing public education opportunities. The Equal Justice Initiative Museum and Memorial reconciles with Alabama’s past—bringing clarity to the untold narrative of Black/African American men, women, and children who were enslaved and racially terrorized. I am proud that we have a regional campus in our Capital city.

As UAB Medicine expands its footprint in Alabama via Live Health Smart Alabama and more programs, I am committed to elevate the brand of Birmingham and Alabama’s other cities, where our regional campuses and clinics live. Our campuses in Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, and Montgomery continue to thrive and grow. All of these campuses offer robust family medicine and rural health programs—among other programs. I want the rest of the country to know how bountiful our academic medical center is in biomedical research, excellent patient care, and medical training.

We are taking active steps to distinguish ourselves from other universities. As you may know, we were named the #1 Best Employer by Forbes, beating other well-known employers with great reputations, such as Costco, Mayo Clinic, and Yale University.

We’re among the top five largest public hospitals in the U.S. We are in the top 1% of global institutions for NIH funding. And, as of last week, we are the recipient of $100 million in naming gifts for the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine.

We have a lot to be proud of here at UAB. No matter our role, we are all ambassadors for UAB, for our city, and for Alabama. When it comes to sourcing top talent, UAB Medicine’s many homes across Alabama are relevant places to live and work because of our past and the problems our nation faces. I hope you feel as pleased as I do with all we have accomplished. We still have work to do, so let’s build on our momentum, continuing to break barriers and create lasting change in Alabama.