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December 02, 2010   Email to Friend 

Darryal Ray
(334) 613-4187
December 02, 2010

Dr. John R. Wheat
MOBILE, Ala. -- Dr. John Wheat, founder and director of the University of Alabama's Rural Health Leaders Pipeline Program, will be presented the Alabama Farmers Federation's highest honor, the Service To Agriculture Award, during the opening session of the organization's 89th Annual Meeting at Mobile's Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center, Dec. 5.

About 1,200 Federation members from throughout the state are expected to attend the two-day meeting whose theme, "Agriculture: A Growing Story," is being carried over from November's annual Farm-City Week. Governor-elect Dr. Robert Bentley also will address the opening session.

Wheat, a professor at UA's College of Community Health Sciences and School of Medicine, was just 13 when he decided to become a country doctor. "I had a sense back then," Wheat once said, "that all doctors were kind of old and hard to find."

Since 1996, Wheat has been working to address that shortage of rural physicians by recruiting the best and brightest students from rural communities throughout Alabama. Because of his efforts, the Rural Health Leaders Pipeline Program has won national acclaim as it grew into programs for Rural Health Scholars (11th graders), Rural Medical Scholars (a five-year medical education track for premed and medical students that leads to a Doctor of Medicine) and Rural Minority Health Scholars (for college bound high school graduates).

The Rural Medical Scholars Program, in particular, has earned the full support of the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance. In 2004, Alfa presented the Rural Medical Scholars Program a $1.8 million gift that continues to accrue interest in an endowed scholarship for students. In 2009, the first recipient of that scholarship, Dr. Terry James, returned home to Winston County where he now practices family medicine.

"Everybody needs a doctor who cares about them. For the people of rural Alabama, that doctor is Dr. John Wheat," said Federation President Jerry Newby, who'll present the Service to Agriculture Award to him Sunday afternoon. "Dr. Wheat has been rural Alabama's friend and advocate for many years, working hard behind the scenes to bring more doctors to small towns all across the state. Thanks to his focus and his determination, it's becoming easier to find a doctor in rural Alabama. Thanks to him, the health of Alabama's farmers and other rural residents continues to improve. Alabama needs more doctors like Dr. Wheat, and because of him, we're getting them."

Earlier this summer, Wheat was inducted into the Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame in Montgomery. In 2007, he was named Distinguished Educator by the National Rural Health Association (NRHA), and he has also received the Ira L. Myers Award from the Alabama Public Health Association and a commendation from the Alabama Family Practice Rural Health Board. He twice received gubernatorial appointments to the federal ARC Health Policy Board and was elected by the membership to head the North American AgroMedicine Consortium.

Download Agenda For 2010 Annual Meeting Here

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