Cahaba Medical + UAB Family Medicine Residency program has proudly received the prestigious 2024 Leape Ahead Award, bestowed by the American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL). Out of numerous contenders across the nation, Cahaba stands tall as one of the select two recipients of this esteemed recognition. 


Inaugurated in 2011, the Leape Ahead Award celebrates institutions demonstrating new ideas and methods in developing educational or training initiatives aimed at enhancing physician leadership and elevating healthcare standards for medical students or residents. Named in tribute to Lucian Leape, MD, a distinguished former pediatric surgeon renowned for advocating a culture of respect and professionalism in medical education, the award acknowledges his strong and steady way of dedication to fostering a safe learning environment. Dr. Leape’s legacy underscores the fundamental principle of “first do no harm,” crucial in advancing patient safety across medical practice. 


In 2013, Cahaba Medical Care initiated its standalone ACGME-accredited Family Medicine residency in rural Bibb County, Alabama, marking Alabama’s pioneering Teaching Health Center training program and among the earliest full residency programs situated predominantly in an underserved rural community. 

Expanding its reach in 2018, Cahaba worked to make a greater residency program with the addition of an Urban Campus in Birmingham. At the same time, it forged an academic association with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Heeksink School of Medicine, aimed at enriching residents’ educational training by furnishing supplementary resources and facilitating access to crucial rotations, all while upholding the program’s community-based ethos. 

This partnership has since evolved to encompass medical student rotations, collaborative faculty development endeavors, and the establishment of various fellowships, further presenting the alliance between Cahaba and UAB. 


In 2022, the Cahaba Medical + UAB Family Medicine Residency program introduced the innovative Frontier Campus, advancing a new approach by immersing residents in two of Alabama’s most remote and underserved regions: Marion (Perry County) and Camden (Wilcox County). Shortly thereafter, in the same year, the Cahaba – UAB Family Medicine Residency introduced the Highlands Campus at UAB Hospital – Highlands in Birmingham. 

Over the past decade, the Cahaba + UAB Family Medicine Residency has established a remarkable track record in placing and retaining graduates in health professional shortage areas (HPSAs), both within Alabama and nationwide. With nine classes of residents graduated, 15 out of Cahaba’s 35 rural alumni have pursued primary care roles in rural underserved communities. This figure significantly surpasses the national average for Family Medicine residencies and exceeds the rate for other Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) programs by a considerable margin. 

Likewise, 46 out of their 61 alumni have chosen to serve in primary care roles within medically underserved communities across the United States. This percentage significantly exceeds the national average for Family Medicine Residencies, which stands at 26%. Additionally, more than half of the graduates choose to remain within the state, presenting a significant asset to Alabama’s healthcare landscape. 

This contribution holds great value for a state facing a shortage of over 400 Family Physicians by 2030. This shortage is problem and a bad situation by a combination of factors, including an increasingly rapid and aging population, as well as the retirement rate of current Family Physicians practicing in underserved regions. 


Dr. Lacy Smith, Co-Founder and Associate Program Director of Cahaba + UAB Family Medicine Residency and Co-Founder and COO of Cahaba Medical Care, emphasized the necessity for intentional placement of training programs and tailored training for graduates to relieve the primary care shortage in underserved regions.  

The Cahaba + UAB Family Medicine Residency program was specifically crafted to involve residents in a practical, highly mentored setting, ensuring they are well-prepared to seamlessly transition into their professional roles post-graduation. 

Reflecting on the program’s decade-long impact, Dr. John B. Waits, Co-Founder and Program Director of Cahaba + UAB Family Medicine Residency and Co-Founder and CEO of Cahaba Medical Care, expressed pride in the outcomes observed, such as increased resident retention and greater participation in underserved and rural medicine. This national award serves as validation of their commitment to advancing graduate medical education and positively influencing the broader healthcare landscape.