October 04, 2021

The Power of Primary Care: UAB programs address statewide needs

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IMG 0257 1 1.JPGAlabama ranks lowest in many health care rankings according to the 2020 U.S. News and World Report. The state is 45th out of 50 for the overall health of its residents and 44th out of 50 for economic opportunity. There are more rural counties than urban, creating issues with access to healthcare for thousands of Alabamians each year. Because of these and other health care markers, UAB and other institutions are dedicated to improving health outcomes for Alabama over the next ten years and beyond.

In 2021, less than 40 percent of the UAB Heersink School of Medicine graduates matched into a primary care specialty. The Heersink School of Medicine has put a renewed focus on primary care and is investing in programs and statewide outreach to increase the number of students going into primary care in the future.

“Our aim is to continue to become an innovative leader in primary care education,” said Irfan Asif, M.D., chair and professor for the Department of Family and Community Medicine and associate dean for Primary Care and Rural Health. “By collaborating among our campuses and with statewide organizations, UAB will bridge the gap between where the state is and where we need to be in the next 10 years.”

Educating the next generation of primary care leaders

The Department of Family and Community Medicine was awarded a HRSA grant in 2020 to address this issue and enhance the primary care education that students receive while at UAB. The Comprehensive Urban Underserved and Rural Experience (CU2RE) program not only aims to increase the number of students going into family medicine but is designing modules and innovative methods of preparing students to be physicians in underserved urban and rural areas in Alabama. CU2RE’s program, centered on primary care models and improvement methods for basic health, is in its second year and has more than 20 students currently enrolled across all of UAB’s campuses.

While CU2RE and similar programs in the School of Medicine work to increase the number of primary care graduates, UAB faculty leaders like Mona Fouad, M.D., MPH, senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion and director of the division of preventive medicine, are working to improve the health and day-to-day lives of Alabamians in communities across the state through outreach initiatives.

Addressing primary care preventions for Alabama

Live HealthSmart Alabama is a plan that seeks to collaborate with organizations across the state to improve policies, systems, and impact the health of all Alabamians. Live HealthSmart has completed local community improvement projects, hosts a Mobile Market that sells fresh produce and healthy pantry staples, and speaks to groups to educate state leaders on ways they can help solve the health issues facing the state.

Student-led groups like Equal Access Birmingham and Equal Access Alabama also work to help underserved populations get access to care in Birmingham and in areas across the state. Students and faculty mentors see uninsured patients in clinics to improve health and prepare medical students for a future spent caring for those that often exist outside of the traditional healthcare system.

Reaching potential medical leaders earlier 

Other groups, such as the Alabama Statewide Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program and rural scholars' programs, seek to assist medically-minded students get into pipeline programs and professional tracks. These organizations see the need for a diverse group of future physicians who are equipped to understand and respond to the needs of medically underserved populations in urban and rural areas.

Primary care at UAB and across the state often takes on the look of a community-minded group of individuals who want to help. Whether grant-funded or grass-roots, these programs and organizations highlight the need for teamwork and collaboration when it comes to improving health outcomes and educating populations on preventive ways to live healthier lives.

During Primary Care Week and beyond, UAB’s emphasis on addressing primary care and preventive health issues across the state inspires and feeds off of the work being done by Alabamians every day. Prioritizing primary care is and must remain a statewide focus as many organizations work as one to shepherd Alabama to a healthier tomorrow.