Today’s guest columnist is Dr. Selwyn Vickers.
Growing up in Alabama has always been a significant point of pride for me.
Throughout my training years at Johns Hopkins Medicine and my seven years as chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Minnesota, I knew I would find my way back here.
On January 1, I officially assumed the role of CEO of the UAB Health System and CEO of the UAB/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance while also continuing to serve as Dean of the UAB Heersink School of Medicine. I have had the pleasure of serving as Dean for the past eight years. Now, with this change, I recognize the opportunity and privilege these roles grant me. I carry the honor of leadership with pride in our beautiful city, one that is often overshadowed by its history of stark and blatant injustice.
I look to the themes of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail when I consider our path forward. Even sixty years later, his words resonate. “We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation,” he wrote, “because the goal of America is freedom.”
I have a vision for Alabama, and the city of Birmingham specifically, to be a region that surprises and exceeds expectations of the rest of the country with our efforts to create lasting equity in education, health, disease prevention, and health care access.
I imagine a State without the significant socioeconomic barriers to health care and education that disproportionately affect People of Color. Fifteen percent of Alabama was illiterate in 2021. Two million Alabamians live in a food desert and lack affordable, healthy food choices. Outdoor exercise is impossible in many neighborhoods due to the absence of safe outdoor spaces and necessary infrastructures, such as sidewalks and street lamps.
In spite of our troubles, we have a unique ability to discuss the difficulties we face now and the injustices we have endured in the past, especially in Birmingham. Although our history is dark in some corners, we are fastened together by generational stories of justice, compassion, and mercy. I believe these narratives have moved us forward. We must remember that our history allows us to heal and informs us, but does not define us.
I am proud that Birmingham has been under African American/Black political leadership for over 30 years. Program and policy renovations have been ongoing, and in the most recent past, I see momentum like I have never seen before. Our youngest adult generations have a hunger for change, advocating fiercely for truth and justness.
When it comes to health and health care, my goals are to work hand-in-hand with city and State leadership, crafting a healthier and happier place to live for all of us.
My commitment to Birmingham and residents across the State is to be a relational leader who focuses on people. The 23,000 faculty, staff, and students at UAB Medicine work rigorously to keep our patients at the centerpiece of all we do. As I step into this new role of CEO and Dean, working with President Watts and Chancellor St. John, we will continue to put people’s health and quality of life at the forefront of every decision made.
Health care leaders in Birmingham, including at UAB Medicine (Reid Jones), Ascension St. Vincent’s (Jason Alexander), and UAB Health System (Dawn Bulgarella), understand the ripple effect of health care and how our actions trickle into our communities.
Some of our programs, like Live HealthSmart Alabama, use funding to actively engage with underserved communities by offering access to healthy lifestyles. Too, because of UAB’s programs and leadership in rural health, health care options have expanded into some of Alabama’s cities and small towns that have never had access to specialty doctors.
Another example of how UAB and Birmingham exemplify reckoning with human and civil rights is the Dreams of Hope concert documentary, directed by UAB’s Dr. Henry Panion III—which highlights the Violins of Hope initiative. Memories of the Jewish Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement are intertwined in the moving, powerful concert documentary.
From our large campus in Birmingham to our regional campuses, our health, health care, and education efforts aim to be a part of Alabama’s transformation. Similar to Dr. King’s words, we are “moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land” of health, racial, and economic justice for all.
My hope for our future is to embrace the challenges of change with curiosity and optimism. I am proud to work in Birmingham. I believe we each influence Alabama in thinking about the past, solving challenges of the present, and working towards an innovative future.
Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS, dean of the Heersink School of Medicine and CEO of the UAB Health System and the UAB/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance.
David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
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