It Starts with Hope: Building a Workforce in Rural Alabama

July 18, 2018

It was a seasonably, hot summer morning in Southeast Alabama when many high schoolers were sleeping late or lazily surfing the internet – if they were awake. Yet on this day – in the small, rural berg of Hayneville, Alabama, a group of young women from the three local high schools gathered at the Hayneville Baptist Church - a welcoming location on Highway 21 - to attend Saturday school!

Drs. Capouano and Nadkar advise Academy students



These students were participants in the Lowndes County Health Career Academy – a new career enrichment program hosted by the Southeast Alabama Area Health Education Center (SEAAHEC). Since January, SEAAHEC and health professions faculty and students from regional universities coordinated monthly sessions from nine different health career disciplines to present to the students as health career options – in a county that has no hospital. 



Students learn how to use a blood pressure cuff with Dr. Trupti.



The sessions include pharmacy, nursing, social work, public health, emergency medical services, medical school, behavioral health, nutrition, and physical therapy. On this day, the students were anxious to hear from two residents with the Montgomery Family Medicine Residency program: second year resident, Dr. Max Capouano and Dr. Trupti Nadkar – who graduated from the Baptist Health residency program the previous evening. 


Both physicians were willing to share their rare, free time on this Saturday morning to influence young lives, and they started by asking, “Why are you interested in health care?” One after one, the students replied, “I just want to help others,” or “I watched my grandmother suffer with cancer, and it made an impact on my life,” one student said. 


“These are all good reasons,” Dr. Nadkar explained, “but you have to have a plan and you must write it down,” she urged the group. Both physicians advised, “it won’t happen overnight – you have to have a plan.” 


The young teachers expertly led students through suturing activities and they taught them how to take vital signs - what the numbers mean.  As the young ladies struggled, at first, then caught onto the suturing technique - several pulled out their phones and proudly posted a sutured banana to social media! Indeed, the instructors provided real-life and novel hands-on activities, but, in addition, they provided hope and belief that one day, the students, too, could attend and graduate from medical school and be a part of the health care workforce.  



Students learn how to suture a banana with Dr. Max.



Indeed, building a primary care workforce is the driving vision behind SEAAHEC whose mission is to create greater access to quality health care in rural and underserved communities similar to Lowndes County. The process is longitudinal: a pipeline – with an entry point (high school), training years (college), and an end point: graduate health care providers who want to work in medically deficient communities. 


The process requires a community effort with willing partners, like the residency program and community groups to spend time presenting information and mentoring interested students. But the most important ingredient is providing hope and the willingness to walk alongside them.

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