April 09, 2024

How public health intersects with medicine and science at UAB

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At the beginning of April each year, we celebrate National Public Health Week with seminars, conferences, and discussions. 

Last week, health care professionals gathered for the Annual Montgomery Health Policy Meeting, hosted by UAB Heersink School of Medicine, where researchers, community health workers, and clinicians discussed important public health topics. The docket included presentations on environmental climate, regional disparities, and increasing community capacity. Representation from Heersink School of Medicine, University of South Alabama, Baptist South, Yale University, University of Mississippi Medical Center, and city leadership were on site.

This type of collaborative discourse is an ongoing, regularly occurring approach to academic medicine at UAB Heersink School of Medicine. We are proud of our unique traits that contribute to public health dialogue like that at the Montgomery Health Policy Meeting. 

In fact, our engagement in community health and our bench to bedside (and back to bench) approach is part of what distinguishes us from the rest. Year-after-year, clinicians and scholars choose UAB over prestigious institutions. 

One of the many reasons I continue to call UAB home is the interdisciplinary nature of our approach to medicine and science. Our experts share a distinct willingness to work together on shared interests. The collaboration at UAB is unlike anywhere else in the country. Our health care teams and researchers connect relentlessly on methodologies, findings and outcomes.

Our unique approach is, in part, due to the high chronic disease burden in Alabama. The high prevalence of kidney disease, cardiometabolic disease, cancer, and diabetes in Alabama and the southeast region is striking due to many regional factors. Social determinants of health influence access to care, like the lack of nutritious foods or preventive education and a long-standing mistrust in medicine and research in rural areas. 

I have seen this collaborative spirit firsthand in the field as a nephrologist and as director of the O’Brien Center for Kidney Research. 

In fact, when I first came to UAB, I remember a researcher in Microbiology reaching out to me because of our shared interest in the same protein. It was a protein I researched for kidney disease that he was working on for tuberculosis (TB). I remember thinking, “I am not a TB researcher—I don’t know much about it—but I do know about the protein.” His informal communication led to a collaborative partnership with extramural grants, co-authored publications and co-mentorship of students and postdoctoral fellows. This process was academic, uncompetitive, and collegial in a way that was unfamiliar to me at first but resonated deeply on an inherent level.

Similarly, the ways our medical school and public health experts work together are boundless. Many of our clinicians and scientists have shared appointments with both the Heersink School of Medicine and the School of Public Health and School of Health Professions. While we each have our own departments and expertise, we do not have barriers for collaboration. This opens new lanes of possibility. 

The collaborative approach is traversable to partner institutions across the country and globally. An NIH-funded P-50 center—Forge AHEAD Center—led by MPIs Andrea Cherrington, M.D., and Gareth Dutton, Ph.D., is paving the way for health equity models that expand to a larger geographic region. Forge AHEAD is comprised of four institutions across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama but is one of eleven in the national Health Equity Action Network.

Our passion for saving lives and bettering the communities at our doorstep is the most important facet of our work at UAB. Shared purpose is why we are so successful and why UAB is such a powerhouse in the Deep South. 

The next level for medicine and science globally is work that intersects expertise and areas of interest. UAB is paving the way for how to do that as we continue to work together in all we do.