January 13, 2013

UAB School of Medicine enters Sullivan Alliance to create more diversity in medical professions

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Leaders from the School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham met with administrators from colleges and universities across the state Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, to establish the Alabama Alliance to Transform Healthcare Professions, an academic partnership between the institutions to promote increasing minority representation in medical careers.

watts sullivan bellUAB, which has  long-standing efforts aimed to increase diversity in the Alabama healthcare workforce, will serve as the leader for the partnership fostered by the Sullivan Alliance, an organization founded in 2005 by former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan, M.D., to provide leadership in developing a more racially and ethnically diverse workforce in health professions.

Ray L. Watts, M.D., senior vice president and dean of the School of Medicine at UAB, said the alliance would provide excellent opportunity.

“At UAB, we celebrate diversity and are pleased to have colleagues from colleges and universities around Alabama here today to align ourselves together to provide outstanding opportunities for all our citizens,” Watts said. “In particular, we want to provide exceptional opportunities for underrepresented minorities so we can have a healthcare team and force that represents Alabama’s general population.”

Sullivan said one-third of Alabama residents are minorities, but only 5 percent of its physicians are. The Sullivan Alliance, based in Alexandria, Va., hopes to increase diversity in the medical professions to aid in the distribution of healthcare services.

“First of all, Alabama is a state with tremendous medical centers with great teaching and research, but it’s also a state where you have great health disparities,” Sullivan said. “So the Sullivan Alliance activities are designed to improve the distribution and diversity of our nation’s health professions, in hopes that this will improve the health status of the citizens in the state of Alabama. Combining the tremendous resources of a powerful (and) important medical center like UAB with the needs around the state should really help us address those needs in a very effective way.”

Leaders from Alabama’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Alabama A&M University, Miles College, Alabama State University, Lawson State Community College, Tuskegee University and Oakwood University, along with administrators from Auburn University, Troy University and Birmingham-Southern College, met Friday to sign the alliance-forming memorandum of understanding. Sharon Bell, wife of Birmingham Mayor William Bell, also attended the signing ceremony, representing Birmingham City Schools.

J.F. Drake State Technical College, Selma University, Stillman College and Trenholm State Technical College will also join the state alliance.

“What we’re doing in Alabama today (to increase underrepresented minorities in health professions) will have an impact today, 10 years from now and 30 years from now,” Sullivan said.

“One of the priorities we have at UAB is to create more pipeline programs for more students from groups that are underrepresented in medicine—students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, rural backgrounds and ethnic and racial groups typically underrepresented in medicine. We’ve been working hard on that, and this will help us build on it, because it formalizes relationships with so many schools that are so important to Alabama,” said Hughes Evans, M.D., senior associate dean for medical education at UAB.

The UAB School of Medicine has several ongoing projects to continue increasing diversity in the healthcare workforce. The Health Careers Opportunity Program reaches 250 middle and high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds to expose them to enriching science and math programs and professional school preparedness.  The year-round Health Enrichment Learning Program (HELP) for college students provides study skills, job shadowing opportunities, HIPPA training and exposure to the School of Medicine, and the annual Teen Summit and Pre-health Conference attracts 75-150 undergraduate students and 75-100 high school students interested in healthcare careers.

The School of Medicine also has several ongoing community service partnerships with churches, hospice organizations, nursing associations and others to increase education about health disparities. The school also works with diversity students and the Student National Medical Association to sponsor multiple community health screenings each year.

“To really undertake a health initiative in Alabama, having UAB as part of that effort is very important,” Sullivan said. “So that’s why I’m pleased we have UAB providing tremendous leadership and partnership with us in this effort.”