UAB program to recruit doctors to rural areas

Published 12:25 am Friday, September 7, 2012

In an effort to expand access to primary care in rural areas like Selma, The University of Alabama-Birmingham is launching a program that will boost the number of healthcare specialists in underserved communities.

Through a five-year, $5.25 million grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, UAB School of Medicine has created five state Area Health Education Centers which will recruit, support and retain health-care specialists in all 67 Alabama counties.

“What that means is basically there’s recognition that there’s a shortage of physicians and other kinds of healthcare professionals in many places in rural Alabama,” said Bob Shepard, UAB media specialist. “There’s also places even in urban areas that are underserved.”

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Shepard said one of the ways the program tries to increase the number of healthcare professionals is by recruiting young people interested in medicine and encouraging them to work in rural areas.

“We want to try to push that concept forward,” Shepard said. “We want people when they get their nursing degree or their certificate in occupational therapy to look into careers in primary care careers in rural areas.”

AHEC is a collaboration between UAB and other schools across the state along with state agencies.

There are five centers throughout the state located at: Alabama A&M University, Huntsville; Quality of Life Health Center, Gadsden; Maude Whatley Health Center, Greensboro; Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, Tuskegee and Jefferson Davis Community College in Brewton.

The program was developed under the direction of Ray Watts, M.D., dean of the UAB School of Medicine, to improve the health status of Alabama.

“The concept is to help people in rural Alabama have better access to healthcare,” Shepard said. “I’m assuming Selma will be in the Greensboro area.” Greensboro is where the closest AHEC is located.

Shepard said the program is off to a good start.

“It has already hit the ground running,” Shepard said. “They already have an advisory committee from leaders throughout the state in place.”

This is also the first time the program will be activated on a statewide level.

“So for the first time, the entire state is going to have access to some of these resources,” he said.

For more information on the UAB program, contact Bob Shepard at (205) 934-8934.