Doctors who practice in rural areas must be leaders in their communities and not only care for their patients but work to address poverty, education and economic development issues, said Dr. F. Douglas Scutchfield, the Peter Bosomworth Professor of Health Services Research and Policy at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health and director of the National Coordinating Center for Public Health Services and Systems Research, housed in the College of Public Health.
“Anything that impacts patients’ health and wellbeing is the responsibility of all of us and requires you to play a role in your community,” he told students and guests during the College of Community Health Sciences’ 17th Annual Rural Health Scholars Convocation April 26 at The University of Alabama.
Scutchfield was the guest speaker at the convocation, which recognized 12 students who have completed a course of study that provides certification and a master’s degree in Rural Community Health. The course of study prepares students for further health professional training and, for some, is part of a five-year medical education track and is completed in the year prior to entry into medical school.
Scutchfield was also presented with the College’s Rural Medical Scholar Program Distinguished Service Award, given annually to recognize an individual’s commitment to rural health care over a career.
“I feel myself in a privileged position to be part and parcel with individuals who have been recognized before,” he said.
Scutchfield served as chair of the College’s Department of Family Medicine in 1974 and as the College’s first associate dean for Academic Affairs from 1975 to 1979. He was hired by the College’s founding dean, Dr. William R. Willard.
“Dr. Willard understood the role of communities and the importance of communities. That’s why he wanted to create a College of Community Health Sciences,” Scutchfield said. “We were impressed with the opportunity to create rural private care physicians, and we created a group who were competent, caring physicians. We created physician leaders.”
He told the students that “you will have leadership thrust upon you. You are likely to be on the Board of Health, on the Medical Board, on the state chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Poverty and education are not seen as a responsibility of doctors, but it is for those who are leaders of their communities. It’s hard to exercise if there are no sidewalks, so you are the one who will need to say, when a new subdivision is going up, where are the sidewalks? You have a responsibility to work for economic development. Your leadership role requires you to look beyond the patient in front of you, while taking good care of the patient.”
Scutchfield, who holds a faculty appointment in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, is also director of the National Coordinating Center for Public Health Services and Systems Research, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. He was the founder of the Graduate School of Public Health at San Diego State University and the School of Public Health at the University of Kentucky.
His research and teaching focuses on preventive medicine and public health. He is a former editor of several medical and preventive medicine journals and has published more than 200 journal articles, editorials, books and book chapters. He has served as president of the American College of Preventive Medicine and the Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine.
The students recognized during the convocation include those in two of the University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences’ rural programs – the Rural Community Health Scholars Program and the Rural Medical Scholars Program.
The Rural Community Health Scholars Program trains future rural Alabama health-care providers to become community health leaders. This training prepares them to help develop and maintain community health center and other health-care practices and engage in community affairs that advance community health.
The Rural Medical Scholars Program is for college seniors or graduate students and is a five-year track of medical studies that leads to a certificate or master’s degree from The University of Alabama and a medical degree from the University of Alabama School of Medicine. The program focuses on rural primary care and community medicine and gives students experiences in rural settings through field trips, service projects, research, and shadowing of rural physicians.