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Two from ETSU receive statewide rural health awards

Contributed • Jan 3, 2020 at 5:45 PM

Dr. Joe Florence and Carolyn Sliger of East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine both recently ominated a deserving co-worker to receive an award from the Rural Health Association of Tennessee. 

They had no idea that they were nominating each other — until the RHA of TN’s annual conference, held in Pigeon Forge on National Rural Health Day in November.

At the conference, Florence, professor of Family Medicine at Quillen, was presented with the Rural Health Professional of the Year Award. Sliger was awarded the Eloise Q. Hatmaker Distinguished Service Award.

Florence has served as a family physician and director of Quillen College of Medicine’s Rural Programs for the past 17 years. During this time, he has been active with the Remote Area Medical Clinics as the lead physician and has overseen rural health fairs in multiple sites across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

“Dr. Florence has been a cornerstone of our flagship Rural Primary Care Track for years, and has helped make it a nationally recognized and praised program,” said Dr. Reid Blackwelder, chairman of Family Medicine.

“He has mentored dozens of medical students who have followed his example and gone into underserved communities.

“He lives and breathes rural medicine, and is a tireless champion for education and our region’s needs.”

His other interests and affiliations include membership in the American Academy of Family Physicians, National Rural Health Association, Board Member of the Rural Health Association of TN and Tennessee Academy of Family Medicine.

Florence’s nominator, Sliger, noted his significant contributions as a family physician.

“It is without a doubt that the work of Dr. Florence has improved the health of our community,” Sliger said. “His innovative approach to caring for individual patients and the community as a whole has provided outstanding benefits to the public’s health. Dr. Florence is and always will be our ETSU ‘country doc.’ ”

Additionally, Florence is a respected educator at Quillen College of Medicine.

“He has a passion for community engagement, health improvement and experiential education of medical students,” said Dr. Kenneth Olive, executive associate dean at Quillen. “He is an excellent role model for our medical students.”

Sliger’s award recognizes an individual who has contributed outstanding service to the RHA of TN and rural health.

“Carolyn is a mover and a shaker, and the health of our rural and underserved communities are much better off because of her,” said Florence. “Her love for rural health is infectious. Her life of service has touched hundreds of physicians and health care providers who are now practicing in rural underserved communities.”

Sliger grew up on a farm in rural Rosedale, Virginia, where she learned to love the land, the people and the values of rural life.

Early in her professional life, she distinguished a career working at the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department developing programs in response to patients suffering from what became known as HIV-AIDS.

Since 1997 she has coordinated Rural Programs in ETSU’s Family Medicine and Quillen College of Medicine.

As a coordinator, her responsibilities involve engaging high school, college, medical students and residents and health professions students into areas of interest in rural or underserved medicine including international medicine.

This includes the Rural Primary Care Track, which is designed to prepare physicians for the rigors of practice using a service-learning, experiential pedagogy in rural communities.

She has been an active member of the RHA of TN, serving on the board of directors as the East Tennessee regional vice president. She also has been active in the National Rural Health Association’s Rural Medical Educator’s Group.

Sliger has been heavily involved in the Remote Area Medical mobile clinics in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, serving as the medical coordinator of the Tri-Cities RAM event every year since its beginning.

In addition to Florence and Sliger’s awards, Dr. Beth Anne Fox, associate dean of Quillen College of Medicine, was recently elected to the RHA of TN board.

Further accolades include third-year Quillen student Emmitt Turner, whose research poster titled “Adolescent and Electronic Cigarette Use in Johnson County” placed first in its division.

Second-year Quillen student Rebekka Merrifield’s poster titled “Diabetic Health Literacy in an Appalachian Latino Population” also placed first in its division.

For more information about Quillen’s Rural Programs, visit www.etsu.edu/com/ruralprograms

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