Upcoming HDRG Meeting

The Health Disparities Research Group (HDRG) is a multidisciplinary assembly of faculty, students, staff, and community representatives with a vision “to become an integral facilitator in eliminating health disparities through partnerships with our community.” Held the 3rd Friday of each month throughout the academic year, the meetings provide an opportunity to share research and cultivate a positive atmosphere for community-engagement in addressing health disparities.

The next meeting is November 17, at 1:00 pm in Bio-medical Library Room 222-A. Danny Patterson, Coordinator, Collaborations and Partnerships, Gulf States Health Policy Center, will share about their work in his presentation “Building Community Based Research through Community Coalitions.” Danny’s presentation is based on a poster that he and colleagues presented at the 4th Annual Community Engagement Institute in Birmingham that won an award in the conceptual framework category.

Please join us on November 17.


Crossing Paths: High School Friends Reunite in Medical Field

The following article is cross-posted from Med School Watercooler: The Blog of the University of South Alabama College of Medicine.

Less than two miles away from their high school alma mater, Drs. Antwan Hogue and ShaRhonda Watkins have crossed paths again, working together on Green Medicine – an internal medicine multidisciplinary team at USA Medical Center. Dr. Hogue serves as the attending physician and Watkins is the pharmacist.

The two graduated from John L. Leflore High School in 2004, where Dr. Hogue was named valedictorian and Dr. Watkins was named salutatorian. In addition to graduating at the top of their class, former classmates also named Dr. Hogue ‘most likely to succeed’ and Dr. Watkins ‘most intelligent.’ While the two remained friends after graduation, they lost contact as they completed their college career.

Dr. Hogue earned both his undergraduate and medical degree from USA, while Dr. Watkins completed her undergraduate degree at Xavier University in New Orleans. Dr. Hogue then completed his residency training in internal medicine at Palmetto Health Richland in Columbia, S.C. — 680 miles away from Xavier University College of Pharmacy, where Dr. Watkins completed her doctor of pharmacy degree.  After completing his residency training, Dr. Hogue served as a hospitalist and internal medicine physician at West Florida Hospital in Pensacola, Fla., before joining USA last year.

On Dr. Hogue’s first day at USA, Dr. Errol Crook, professor and Abraham Mitchell Chair of Internal Medicine at the USA College of Medicine, took Dr. Hogue around USA Medical Center to get acquainted with faculty. “Dr. Crook told me that we had a pharmacist on the team and that we graduated from the same high school,” he said. “I immediately knew he was referring to the ShaRhonda Watkins I went to school with.”

Dr. Watkins was on vacation during Dr. Hogue’s first day and they met later in the week during rounds. “I walked into rounds and to my surprise I saw Dr. Hogue sitting at the table looking over charts,” Dr. Watkins recalled. “He looked up and realized who I was, and then he immediately stood up and gave me a big hug. We told the residents that we have known each other since we were 15 and had not seen each other since graduating from high school.”

Now, they have been working together on the same team for almost a year. “Our relationship is the same as it was in high school,” Dr. Watkins explained. “Working with Dr. Hogue definitely challenges me to do my best at all times.”

Each day, Drs. Watkins and Hogue — along with residents and medical students — conduct morning rounds at USA Medical Center.  “Rounding serves as a teaching opportunity,” Dr. Watkins said. “While we go through each patient’s information and discuss their medication with the group, Dr. Hogue may ask me for my input or I may make recommendations on different treatment options.”

Dr. Watkins said their dynamic reminds her of the many honors courses she and Dr. Hogue completed together during high school. “He is one of the smartest people I know,” she said. “Working with Dr. Hogue encourages me to read more medical studies so I can contribute to the group and anticipate any questions. It is almost as if I am in school again.”

According to Dr. Hogue, Dr. Watkins is also a valuable asset to the team. “If we need any updates or recommendations on what medications a patient could benefit from, she always knows the answer and keeps us informed,” he said. “Often times you don’t see people that you graduate within a professional setting. To see your life come full circle is very rewarding.”

A native of Mobile, Dr. Hogue said he is both proud and grateful to be back, making an impact in his community. “I always knew I wanted to come back to Mobile,” he said. “It has been a blessing to come back and work with so many familiar faces. I love being in this neighborhood because it made me exactly who I am today. Knowing that I am the attending physician over the team that is caring for the people of this community is extremely fulfilling.”

Dr. Hogue credits his previous friendship with Dr. Watkins for helping him to adapt to his new position. “Having a familiar person that you know outside of work enabled me to acclimate to the team with ease,” he said. “I know she will always have my back, and I definitely have hers as well.”

See more from the Med School Watercooler.

A Key to Successful Health Transformation: Build Relationships

The following excerpt comes from the article by Lindsey Alexander, Pedja Stojicic, and Rebecca Niles published on September 22, 2017, on ReThink Health.

Several years back, Atul Gawande, a surgeon, public health researcher, and staff writer for the New Yorker, wrote an article on how good ideas spread. In his piece, Gawande detailed the BetterBirth Project, which strives to spread safer childbirth practices in parts of rural India. Gawande wrote:

To create new norms, you have to understand people’s existing norms and barriers to change. You have to understand what’s getting in their way. So what about just working with health-care workers, one by one, to do just that? With the BetterBirth Project, we wondered, in particular, what would happen if we hired a cadre of childbirth-improvement workers to visit birth attendants and hospital leaders, show them why and how to follow a checklist of essential practices, understand their difficulties and objections, and help them practice doing things differently. In essence, we’d give them mentors.

Gawande’s article suggests that the heart of any real transformation is, quite simply, relationships. While in recent years we’ve become enamored with spreading ideas at the speed of light (think TED talks and the quest for the next viral video), the bottom line is this: effective relationships, which take time, are incredibly powerful. For those of us engaged in the art of regional health transformation, it’s imperative that we step back and reevaluate our relationships, considering both their quality and their quantity; pondering the extent to which they are productive and whether anyone important is missing from the table.

Given the imperative of building relationships, we decided to take a look at just how multisector partnerships experience relationships in each of ReThink Health’s three practice areas of stewardship, strategy, and sustainable financing. What do effective relationships look like and what do these relationships enable partnerships to do?

Stewardship: Building Relationships is More Than Networking

Stewardship occurs when regional stakeholders–leaders, community members, organizations, and others across multiple sectors–align and act around shared priorities, strategies, and vision for fostering healthy people and thriving communities. Effective stewardship is often the key to addressing the core challenges facing multisector partnerships as they strive to transform regional health. In this process of alignment, relationships are critical.

Let’s be clear about what we mean by “relationships.” We’ve found that some people confuse building relationships with networking. While networking is done to connect and get informed, building meaningful relationships requires commitment and some degree of openness and vulnerability. Unlike networking, relationships are open-ended, creating the opportunity for growth. It’s similar to the difference between checking how your friends are doing on Facebook and getting together in person for a coffee or dinner. The former will get you informed, but the latter helps you truly connect (and may even take you on an adventure!).

Through ReThink Health’s work with regional transformation efforts, we’ve observed that multisector partnerships and integrator organizations with effective stewardship practices form relationships with at least three critical characteristics:

  1. Shared values – Shared values is about finding common ground; the areas where you agree. It does not necessarily mean everyone has to think or behave the same way. Instead, you can agree on a few foundational elements: that you want to improve health outcomes or increase economic vitality; or that achieving true systems change requires working together. The best way to create shared values is to explore and share stories that motivate us to act, such as deep personal stories that inspired us to do this work or collective stories that bind us as a community. Our Story of Self and Story of Now tools can help you do that effectively.
  2. Clear commitment  – Clear commitment is the glue in any relationship. Taking action and following through demonstrate that you care and that you are committed to collaboration. These are indicators that a relationship exists. We often see stakeholders coming together around the partnership table and participating in meetings or networking without actually taking any action between meetings. Without commitment to each other to meet common goals, there is no relationship.
  3. A spirit of co-creation – Co-creation of new things is a sure sign of a meaningful relationship. Groups that have good relationships tend to be very productive. They might create a Value Proposition for Health System Transformation, implement successful campaigns to improve population health, or develop new guides or manuals for their partners. If you are not producing anything together, soon you will discover that you are not in an effective relationship. You are just playing it safe–because creating something new requires courage, collaborative energy, and creativity.

Read the full article.

USA Health Staff Dancing For Patients’ Health

The following article is cross-posted from the Med School Watercooler: The Blog of the University of South Alabama College of Medicine.


Dr. Lynn Batten, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and a pediatric cardiologist with USA Physicians Group, has a plan to help her pediatric patients get excited about fitness.

During the past several months, she and her staff, along with other medical professionals throughout USA Health, have appeared on the YouTube channel Dr. Fun’s Dance Party USA. The channel is a series of videos featuring USA staff dancing along to hit pop songs. The goal is for the videos to inspire young patients to get up and move with the videos.

“For the past few years, I’ve been interested in creating dance parties for my patients as a way to inspire them to have fun while they exercise,” Dr. Batten said.

After a young patient was hospitalized while waiting for a heart transplant in Birmingham, Ala., the mother of the child emailed Dr. Batten and said their days were very long, and that her daughter could use something to make her smile.

Dr. Batten found inspiration in YouTube. “My son Lucas has been making YouTube videos for quite some time, and so I came to him with the idea of creating a channel where my patients can smile and dance with me no matter where they are,” she said.

With her son’s filming and editing expertise, Dr. Batten was able to get her staff up and moving for their first video, a dance to the pop artist Bruno Mars’ song “24K Magic,” which was the patient’s favorite song.

“The patient passed away soon after the video went up,” Dr. Batten said. “However, her mother did let me know that she in fact saw it and it made her heart shine.”

Four videos later, Dr. Batten remains committed to getting her patients excited about getting up to move. Most recently, staff from the entire first floor of the Strada Patient Care Center came together to film a  choreographed video featuring the song “Shut Up and Dance” by the pop group Walk the Moon.

“We’re thrilled to have so many colleagues, including physicians, residents, nurses and medical students who are stepping up to make patients smile and exercise with us,” Dr. Batten said. “Plus,” she laughed, “You should see some of their incredible dance moves. Have you seen Dr. Maertens’ freestyling moves? They are great.”

Dr. Batten feels that by connecting with her patients through popular music and dance, maybe she can make them more excited about incorporating exercise in their lives. “There was a young patient who would not talk to me at all about walking or any form of exercise, but when I asked him what his favorite song was, he lit up and wanted to tell me all about his dance moves,” she said.

Dr. Batten plans to continue making the videos and hopes that other physicians will branch out to make their own videos for patients. “Other physicians’ patients do not know me and would not be interested in seeing me dance in their videos, but they would be very excited to see their doctor being silly and having a great time,” she said.

Dr. Batten takes song requests during every appointment with her young patients. She also includes the link for the YouTube channel in the patients’ paperwork when they check out. “Most of the time they find the link before they even get home,” she said. She said she remains committed to making her patients feel good about themselves, their fitness and their visit to the clinic.

To view Dr. Fun’s Dance Party USA videos, click here.

Visit the Med School Watercooler for more news from the USA College of Medicine.

Closing Ceremony of the 2017 STARS and STRIPES Summer Program

On July 21st, the CHC Center of Excellence hosted a closing ceremony to recognize twenty-five (25) high school students for their successful completion of the STARS and  STRIPES. Summer Enrichment program. The 13 Student Training for Academic Reinforcement in the Sciences (STARS), and the 12 Special Training to Raise Interest and Prepare for Entry into the Sciences (STRIPES) participants included students from 7 local high schools.

Dr. Errol D. Crook, Director and Principal Investigator of the Center of Excellence, opened the program by giving a brief overview of the program, welcoming all in attendance and congratulating the students on a successful summer.  He then recognized Dr. Hattie M. Myles, retired Co-cor

e Director of Community Outreach, for her outstanding legacy of service to the Center, the University of South Alabama and the community. Dr. Myles presented the Keynote in which she provided a heartfelt, “real talk” message of perseverance, dedication, and hard work. Finally, four former STRIPES graduates who participated in 2017 CHC Undergraduate Research Program, spoke on their undertaking of various research projects and gave the student participants a glimpse into college life.

Funded as a part of the NIMHD Center for Excellence, the STARS and STRIPES program activities  include:

  • Academic enrichment sessions during the summer
  • Participation in community service activities and health advocacy
  • An eight-week internship in a health care provision site or a medical research facility upon high school graduation

Read more about the STARS and STRIPES program

Stars and Stripes ceremony


Changes in NIH Funding for Early- and Mid-Career Investigators

On June 8, 2017, the NIH Director released a statement titled “Launching the Next Generation Researchers Initiative to Strengthen the Biomedical Research Enterprise” describing the commitments NIH is making to encourage early- and mid-career investigators in the biomedical research enterprise. The following excerpt discussing the new initiative comes from an NIH Open Mike blog article published on June 16, 2017,  by Mike Lauer.


As described in a June 8 NIH Director’s statement, and in recognition of the call for such action in the 21st Century Cures Act, we are naming this effort the Next Generation Researchers Initiative. We will take a multi-pronged approach to increase the number of NIH-funded early-stage and mid-career investigators and stabilize the career trajectory of scientists. We describe these approaches on a new web page that we will continue to update. Our activities address both research workforce stability, and evaluation of our investments in research. In brief, NIH will:

  • commit substantial funds from NIH’s base budget, beginning this year with about $210 million, and ramping to approximately $1.1 billion per year after five years (pending availability of funds) to support additional meritorious early-stage investigators and mid-career investigators
  • create a central inventory and track the impact of NIH institute and center funding decisions for early- and mid-career investigators with fundable scores to ensure this new strategy is effectively implemented in all areas of research
  • place greater emphasis on current NIH funding mechanisms aimed at early- and mid-career investigators
  • aim to fund most early-career investigators with R01 equivalent applications that score in the top 25th percentile
  • encourage multiple approaches to develop and test metrics that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of our research portfolio, and assess the impact of NIH grant support on scientific progress, to ensure the best return on investment

Applicants do not need to do anything special to be eligible for this funding consideration. Beginning this fiscal year, the NIH institute or center (IC) who would fund the grant will give your application special consideration for support if you are:

  • an early-stage investigator (within 10 years of completing your terminal research degree or medical residency and have not previously received a substantial independent NIH research award) and receive a score in the top 25th percentile (or an impact score of 35 if the application is not percentiled)
  • a mid-career investigator (within 10 years of receiving your first NIH R01 equivalent award) who scores in the 25th percentile, and either:
    • are at risk of losing all support, or,
    • are a particularly promising investigator currently supported by a single ongoing award (i.e, NIH will prioritize funding an additional concurrent research project grant award)


To learn more:

See the full article on the Open Mike blog.
Read the NIH Director’s statement.
Visit the  Next Generation Researchers Initiative web page.

Housing Assistance and Improved Health Care Access

The following comes from an article published  June 5, 2017 on EurekAlert!.

A new study examining the impact that access to affordable housing has on health showed that people receiving subsidized housing assistance were more likely to have medical insurance and less likely to have unmet medical need than other low income people who were on a US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) wait list for the housing assistance benefit. Approximately 31 percent of the recipients of housing assistance were uninsured, as compared to about 37 percent of the future recipients.

Led by University of Maryland School of Public Health researcher Dr. Andrew Fenelon, the study analyzed data on adults ages 18-64 from the National Health Interview Survey that were linked to HUD data for the eight years from 2004-2012. The findings are published in Health Affairs, June 2017.

“We found that the benefits of giving people subsidized housing go beyond simply having access to affordable housing. Housing is good in and of itself, but even better is that with improved access to housing, you get improvements in access to health care, and ultimately better health outcomes,” said Dr. Fenelon, who is an assistant professor in the UMD SPH Department of Health Services Administration. He conducted the study in collaboration with researchers from HUD, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Center for Health Statistics.

Housing assistance programs funded by HUD provide low-income people with access to safe and affordable housing. People receiving public housing subsidies are often in poor health, with increased need for mental health and chronic disease care. Access to health care has been shown to improve health, and housing instability is correlated with poor access to health care. Still, there are few studies that have explored whether housing assistance programs may lead to improvements in health.

Read the full article.

STARS and STRIPES 2017 Session Kick-Off

The 2017 STARS and STRIPES program launched on June 12th with an orientation session introducing students and parents to program instructors and staff. Ms. Mary Williams, Center for Healthy Communities (CHC) community outreach coordinator, opened the event and provided an overview of what all participants could expect over the summer and introduced the instructors and program assistants for the 2017 session.

crook pipeline opening
Dr. Crook speaking at STARS and STRIPES orientation session.

In welcoming the students, Dr.Errol Crook, Director and Principal Investigator for the CHC, encouraged the young people to take advantage of the opportunities ahead of them and support each other through the program and future challenges as they move on to college and into careers in the medical sciences. He stressed that the CHC focuses on health disparities and sees education and knowledge building as a key component of helping communities to develop their own capacity to advocate for equity and improvement.

Drawing on her experiences as an immigrant to the United States, Dr. Martha Arrieta, Director of Research Core, continued the theme of encouraging the STARS and STRIPES participants to take their futures into their own hands and to make the most of their participation in the program. She also challenged the group to remain curious; explaining that curiosity is the foundational principle of research. In asking the questions — specifically what, when, where, who, and why — researchers move forward in identifying problems and finding solutions.


mary pipeline opening
Mary Williams welcoming the STARS and STRIPES students.


After the greetings, Ms. Williams introduced the program assistants and instructors who in turn explained the program of study for the summer:

  • Library Research
  • Biology, Anatomy, and Physiology
  • Computer Science
  • English
  • Algebra and Trigonometry
  • Health Disparity Studies and Terminology

Learn more about the STARS and STRIPES program.

Read previous articles about the program.

HDRG Recap: “From Charity to Justice: Optimizing the Impact of Service Learning and Community Service”

The final Health Disparities Research Group (HDRG) meeting for the 2016-2017 academic year was held Friday, May 19th. Dr. Erik Goldschmidt, the Director of the Foley Community Service Center at Spring Hill College (Foley Center) was the presenter. Dr. Goldschmidt described the integral role community service plays in the mission of Spring Hill College and the ways in which the Foley Center advances community service efforts by supporting the volunteer work of nearly 50% of the student body each year.

The Foley Center administers service learning courses for many of the departments at Springhill. Service learning classes must provide students with opportunities for authentic interaction with community groups and the individuals they serve. Springhill strives to ensure that these authentic interactions result in student experiences that are characterized by substantial and sustained onsite service to local non-profit, direct-service organizations. This interaction focuses on building relationships which then become the vehicle for student development of self-knowledge, awareness of others, and systems thinking.

In addition, Dr. Goldschmidt discussed the Foley Center’s plans for future growth. A core principle driving the next phase of development is the goal of facilitating systemic engagement that advances beyond charitable work to justice oriented action. The College intends to support students as they work alongside partners to solve real-world problems. Ultimately the expectation is that there will be a “reciprocal learning process” that will improve the community while supporting students in their academic and spiritual journey.

The Foley Center is also exploring ways to bring community members on to the Spring Hill College campus for authentic interactions. One approach is “college exposure” days for students from area middle and high schools. More than a campus tour, the exposure day is designed for two way interaction between the 25 visiting students and approximately 70 faculty, staff and students involved with the group throughout the day. The day also provides for cooperative learning activities in the classes.

Another approach to bringing the community into the campus is a semester focus on one community partner. The partner organization’s leadership and staff can visit the campus, interact with students, and speak in various classes. The interaction includes asking, “what more could we be doing with you.”

Throughout his presentation, Dr. Goldschmidt stressed the potential for personal development of students of service learning, while reinforcing the need to authentically engage with partners with respect and humility.


Useful Resource: Find Summer Meals in Your Community

Find Summer Meals in Your Community is an interactive mapping tool to help families locate nutritious free meals for children and teens around the country. The resource, developed by the Department of Agriculture, works on tablets, smartphones, and other mobile devices without the need to download. Users can enter an address, city, state, or zip code to find up to 50 nearby locations. Information provided includes site addresses, hours of operation, contact information, and directions.

Visit Find Summer Meals in Your Community.