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Medical Association Awards Two Students with Underwood Minority Scholarships

Medical Association Awards Two Students with Underwood Minority Scholarships

The Medical Association of the State of Alabama awarded two $4,000 scholarships to minority medical students Desalyn Johnson and Elijah Morris to help pay the cost of medical school.

The Underwood Minority Scholarship Award is named in honor of Dr. Jefferson Underwood, III, a Montgomery physician who was the first African-American man to serve as the Association’s president.  African-American students who are already attending medical and osteopathic school or who have been accepted to school are eligible to apply for the scholarship.  

Johnson graduated summa cum laude from UAH with a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences and a minor in Spanish Language. She received an NIH-funded National Research Service Award to investigate the effect of insurance status on infant mortality and morbidity rates in the United States. In addition, Johnson has served as a Medical Student Peer Tutor, Diversity Ambassador, and Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Mentor. She was raised in a military family and calls Huntsville home.

Morris graduated from Stonehill College in Massachusetts with a Bachelor’s degree in biology and now attends Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine at Auburn University. In 2023, he was awarded the John Peter Smith Diversity in Medicine Visiting Student Scholarship and was also recognized as a Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholar. A New York native, Morris is a member of the Gold Humanism Honor Society and the Auburn chapter of Sigma Sigma Phi.

“Alabama doctors are honored to present these scholarships to Desalyn and Elijah,” said Dr. George Koulianos, a Mobile physician who serves as President of the Medical Association. “These students have demonstrated remarkable dedication and promise in their pursuit of a career in medicine. The Underwood Minority Scholarship Award aims not only to alleviate the financial burden of medical education but also to empower individuals to become outstanding leaders in medicine.”

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Advocacy in Action: Recapping AAFP’s “Day on the Hill”

Advocacy in Action: Recapping AAFP’s “Day on the Hill”

Why Advocacy Matters

Multiple times each legislative session, the Medical Association’s Government Relations team calls and emails physicians asking them to contact their legislator(s) regarding a specific bill or amendment. As evidenced by the Association’s track record of advocacy successes each year, a number of physicians respond to these “calls to action,” but not near as many as needed.

Unfortunately, there is a belief (not only amongst physicians) that an individual’s voice doesn’t matter; that emails to legislators won’t be read; that phone calls to legislators won’t be passed along; or that legislators won’t listen. Whatever the reason, the underlying premise – that an individual’s voice can’t make a difference – is incorrect.

Not only do legislators desire to hear from constituents, they desperately need to hear from physician-constituents on important health topics. Still, many legislators are surprised when they hear from local physicians at all. This must change.

Heeding the Medical Association’s calls to action could not only have lasting impacts on legislators’ positions on a particular issue, but it could also open the door for physicians to weigh in on other health-related topics.

As the old adage goes, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” The Medical Association makes it a priority to ensure physicians are at the table, but medicine can’t get there without individual physicians doing their part; our likelihood of continued success on state health policy issues depends on your advocacy.  

AAFP's Advocacy Efforts

In early March – shortly before the legislature shutdown due to COVID concerns – the Medical Association teamed up with the Alabama Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the UAB Rural Scholars Program for a day of advocacy at the State House. Particular topics spotlighted throughout the day were the need for updates to the Rural Physician Tax Credit and increasing funding for the BMSA.

Of those in attendance were Dr. Bill Coleman, Dr. David Bramm, Dr. Holly McCaleb, Dr. Drake Lavender, Wesley Minor, and Whitney Lee. Every single one of these individuals made their presence known throughout the State House and displayed an energy for advocacy. Whether it was a short introduction in the hallway or a private meeting in a legislator’s office, the conviction and effectiveness with which they spoke made a lasting impression on every individual they met.

And their work paid off.

In fact, just a couple months later, when COVID had shut down most government bodies and future budgets were being slashed, state legislators decided not only fully fund the BMSA, but to increase its appropriation by over half-a-million dollars.

In a follow-up email to one of the participants from that day, said this:

You lay out your proof in detail not only as to why BMSA has been a good investment, but why it deserves increased funding based on sound business principles using ROI comparisons. I have been a supporter in the House since the issue was presented, passed, then enacted as statutory law.  I will be a willing ally in keeping these programs funded and growing. . . Thanks for “making my day” with your excellent communication!


We are extremely appreciative these individuals took time out of their day to travel to Montgomery and advocate on issues important to them and their peers. We also appreciate Jeff Arrington, Executive Director of AAFP, for his tireless efforts in helping to coordinate this event. The increased funding for BMSA is, no doubt, a direct result of their hard work.

Wesley Minor meets with his Senator, Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper)

Whitney Lee and Dr. David Bramm meet with Rep. Mike Holmes (R-Wetumpka)

Wesley Minor and Dr. Bill Coleman meet with Rep. Tim Wadsworth (R-Winston)

From left to right: Dr. Holly McCaleb, Dr. Drake Lavender, Dr. David Bramm, Senator Larry Stutts, M.D. ( R-Tuscumbia), Wesley Minor, Whitney Lee, Dr. Bill Coleman, and Jeff Arrington, who discussed the importance of increasing access to care in rural areas through programs like the Board of Medical Scholarship Awards and the Rural Medical Scholars Program.

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Underwood Minority Scholarship Awarded

Underwood Minority Scholarship Awarded

The Underwood Minority Scholarship Award is named for long-time Montgomery physician and the Medical Association’s 152nd President Jefferson Underwood III, M.D. Dr. Underwood became the first African-American male to serve as President of the Association in 2018-2019. The Underwood Minority Scholarship Award is for African-American individuals underrepresented in Alabama’s medical schools and the state’s physician workforce.

It is with great pride that we award the following candidate the 2020 Underwood Minority Scholarship Award, and we wish her all the best and hope this monetary award helps her accomplish her goals:

Alicia Williams, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine

A Fort Payne native, Alicia is headed for a career in general pediatrics where she will combine her leadership, clinical skills, knowledge of sports medicine and passion for providing care in rural underserved areas of Alabama. She has had the opportunity to work with teenage youth in Birmingham through Girlz Talk, an organization that teaches professionalism, safety and reproductive education. Alicia has also presented research to Governor Kay Ivey’s team and has collaborated with Secretary Jenna Ross and the Department of Early Childhood Education.

David Bramm, MD, Director of the Rural Medicine Program at UAB states, “Alicia is a breath of fresh air. She is strong without being overbearing, confident without being cocky, devoted to her patients and utterly reliable. I have been privileged to have been a preceptor for several medical schools since 1982 and fully believe Alicia is one of the best I have ever taught. I can recommend her without reservation for the Underwood scholarship.”

Alicia graduated from Mercer University with a 4.0 GPA and a Bachelor’s degree in biology. Currently, she attends UAB School of Medicine and is expected to graduate in 2021. Alicia’s personal interests including writing music, singing and playing basketball.

“I am very grateful to be the first recipient of a scholarship that honors such a respected and esteemed physician as Dr. Underwood,” Alicia states. “This scholarship serves great purpose towards my goals as a future physician, and Dr. Underwood’s leadership and service is a great example for me and other aspiring physicians like me.”

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AMASA Scholarships Help Students Achieve a Dream

AMASA Scholarships Help Students Achieve a Dream

The AMASA Medical Student Scholarship Fund was established in 2012 to assist rising senior medical students. The scholarship is intended to aid students with financial responsibilities concomitant with interviews and travel in their senior year of medical school. This scholarship is made possible by the Alliance to the Medical Association of the State of Alabama through fundraising events and by general and memorial contributions. Multiple awards of at least $1,000 and up to $10,000 are presented at the annual meeting of the Medical Foundation of Alabama in April of each year.

This year, 19 students applied for the scholarships, and four were chosen to receive funds. It is with great pride that we awarded the following four candidates the 2017 AMASA Medical Student Scholarships, and we wish them all the best with the hope this monetary award helps them accomplish their goals:

Elijah Rogers, Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine

Elijah, a native of Dothan, has led an indirect path toward the field of medicine, but it was always his lifelong goal. After graduating from Auburn University, he felt medical school would put too much stress on his relationships and would not be possible, so he worked as an environmental scientist for the State of Alabama. He married right after graduating from Auburn, and he became restless and unfulfilled in his career goals a few years after graduating. So, after soul searching and talking to his wife, he decided to quit his job and go to medical school.

Elijah is currently at the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, and he and his wife have two children. Though hectic, he felt more balanced in medicine and has excelled. He has a stellar academic record and though he spends most of his time outside of school studying and raising his children, he still carves out time to volunteer doing health screenings in his community.His friend wrote to AMASA and said of him, “Elijah is driven by what is right, not blind ambition.” He hopes to pursue a career in general surgery, and we are honored to help him reach his goal: “To provide for my family; to refine my natural abilities and knowledge in order to apply them to challenging problems, and to serve my community with compassion and bless others as I have been blessed.”

His friend wrote to AMASA and said of him, “Elijah is driven by what is right, not blind ambition.” He hopes to pursue a career in general surgery, and we are honored to help him reach his goal: “To provide for my family; to refine my natural abilities and knowledge in order to apply them to challenging problems, and to serve my community with compassion and bless others as I have been blessed.”

Gerard Holder, Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine

Gerard is a native of Huntsville, and is currently at the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine. Though he is early in his training and career, Gerard has already contributed to a great deal of medical research and has an impressive number of publications. He continues to serve his community by participating in Feeding the Gulf Coast as a nutrition assistant, helping educate low-income and at-risk families on healthy eating habits and proper nutrition. He also takes time out of his studies to mentor other students at ACOM and helps them on their paths to becoming physicians.

Gerard is a first-generation college graduate, and he has risen out of a high-risk community. He aspires to train in Medicine or Medicine/Pediatrics and then specialize in Hematology/Oncology. He hopes he can make a large positive contribution to cancer research in his career as a physician.

Amber Dixon, University of Alabama School of Medicine

Amber is an extremely accomplished medical student at The University of Alabama School of Medicine. In addition to excelling in academics and patient care throughout her medical school career, Amber served as the vice president of the Student National Medical Association and secretary of the Global Health Interest Group. She is also coordinator Women in Medicine, where she connects female medical students with female physicians in the area for mentoring, networking and education.Amber is a first-generation college

Amber is a first-generation college student, and writes that most of her friends from her hometown of Kinsey did not go to college. She uses her life experience to encourage students to stay in school and reach their goals. She plans to train in Psychiatry and practice in an underserved area to give her future patients access to care that might be a struggle for them.

Luke Iannuzzi, University of Alabama School of Medicine

Luke is a native of Auburn and attended the University of Kentucky for undergrad. He is married and currently a student at The University of Alabama School of Medicine where he has excelled in research and volunteerism in the field of Pediatrics. He is a member of the Learning Environment Council and the Psychiatry Chair of the Service Learning Committee, in which he helps organize community service projects for medical students. In addition to research and publications, Luke serves as the Vice Chair of the Black Warrior Perinatal Community Action Team, which helped develop and implement strategies to improve perinatal health in Tuscaloosa and surrounding counties. Luke strives to see the entire picture of the patient and treat the whole person, therefore he would like to pursue a career in Family Medicine. He wants to continually strive to do the absolute best for his patients, and we at AMASA have confidence he will do just that.

The Scholarship award process was facilitated by Committee Chair Marie Schneider, Madison County, and Committee members Donna Shergy, Madison County; Karen Alford, Mobile County; and Trudie Sierafi, Montgomery.

Donations to the Scholarship Program can be sent to AMASA Treasurer Mary Beth Lloyd, 5949 Crestwood Circle, Birmingham, AL 35212. In the fall, there will be a plan in place for donations to be made directly to the AMASA Scholarship Fund from retirement accounts.

Article contributed by the Alliance to the Medical Association of the State of Alabama

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