• Fresh Perspectives

    The Power of Mentorship: Our Story with Bill Coleman, M.D.

    Jan. 24, 2024
    By Amanda Stisher, M.D., and Chandler Stisher, M.D., M.P.H.

    Our journey with Bill Coleman, M.D., Ph.D., FAAFP, began in 2014 when we first met him at the Rural Medicine Program pre-interview day during our senior year in college.

    The program resonated with us due to our shared rural upbringing. Little did we know that this encounter would be the catalyst for an experience that would shape our professional careers as family physicians for many years. Inspired by Dr. Coleman’s passion for rural medicine, education and advocacy, we chose to pursue a pathway to medical school through the Rural Medicine Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. This decision marked the beginning of a journey that would ultimately shape the course of our medical careers.

    2014 was also a significant year for Dr. Coleman. He was honored with AAFP’s John G. Walsh Award for Lifetime Contributions to Family Medicine, and he was elected president of the Alabama Rural Health Association. In that first year of his mentorship, Dr. Coleman was already demonstrating to us his dedication to servant leadership.

    During our pre-matriculation year, we had the privilege of attending the Medical Association of the State of Alabama’s Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C., guided by Dr. Coleman. It was at this conference that he first instilled in us invaluable lessons of championing family medicine and advocating on behalf of the patients and communities we would serve one day. Dr. Coleman became a guiding light, fueling our passion for organized medicine that we still carry with us today.

    In a landscape that is continually encouraging subspecialization, Dr. Coleman kept us grounded in family medicine and he constantly reminded us to pursue what we loved. As a past president of the AAFP, he always encouraged us to get involved in our specialty, not only on a local and state level, but also on a national level.

    As founder and director of the Rural Medicine Program, he raised funds to send each cohort of RMP students to the Alabama AFP’s annual meeting, as well as to the AAFP's National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students, which allows attendees to learn more about family medicine, explore residency programs, make connections and learn about leadership and advocacy in the student and resident congresses. Through his guidance, we both applied for the AAFP Foundation’s Emerging Leader Institute early in our medical school career and, to our surprise, were both accepted.

    Through this experience, we formed connections with like-minded individuals and learned essential leadership skills that are crucial for our roles as family physician advocates. The ELI program propelled us to AAFP leadership positions, where we served in several different roles as students and residents.

    The most impactful of these roles for both of us was the chance to serve on the AAFP Board of Directors. (Chandler as the student member and Amanda as the resident member.) These were experiences of a lifetime that we will continue to cherish.

    Recognizing the transformative impact the ELI program had on us and our lives, we continue to make it a point for our family to give back to the AAFP Foundation each year. We understand the profound influence that donors had on our journey and wish to pay it forward, ensuring that rising students and residents have the same opportunities that we did to grow both personally and professionally. Besides financial contributions, we both volunteer our time in reviewing ELI applications each year, and Amanda has taken on the role of mentoring a student in the program.

    In the overall narrative of our medical journey, Dr. Coleman’s influence stands as a testament to the power of mentorship. From the beginning of the Rural Medicine Program through the Emerging Leader Institute and up until his retirement from UAB’s Huntsville Regional Medical Campus, Dr. Coleman’s guidance has been a compass that pointed us toward not only becoming family physicians but also toward supporting the next generation of students and residents who will carry our specialty into the future. As we continue our journey, we are grateful for the opportunity to give back to organizations like the AAFP Foundation, and we invite you to join us in supporting the development of the next generation of family physicians that is crucial for our communities.

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    Future Leaders

    William Coleman, M.D., Ph.D., FAAFP, past president of the Alabama AFP, the AAFP and the AAFP Foundation, helped start the Foundation’s planned giving program by establishing a charitable remainder trust before he died in May 2023.

    Coleman determined that his endowment — the William H. and Johnnie L. Coleman Leadership Fund — would benefit the ELI program, which provides scholarships for 30 residents and students to attend the AAFP’s National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students each summer. ELI participants also take part in in-depth workshops in one of three leadership tracks: Policy & Public Health, Personal & Practice and Philanthropic & Mission-Driven.

    ELI participants receive

    • a $1,000 scholarship to help cover the costs of attending National Conference and ELI;

    • the opportunity to develop and complete a leadership project related to their leadership track; and

    • a family physician mentor, who serves as a role model and provides guidance and project support during the year-long program.

    Family physicians and others can support the ELI program directly or through the Coleman Leadership Fund by donating online. Via the drop down menu, donors can elect to support the ELI Program or the fund.

    Scholarship applications for the 2024 ELI, which will be held Aug. 3-4 in Kansas City, Mo., are open through March 1. Other scholarships related to National Conference, which is Aug. 1-3, open Feb. 14.

    Amanda Stisher, M.D., is an assistant professor of family medicine at the UAB Heersink School of Medicine at the Huntsville Regional Medical Campus where she practices full-scope family medicine, including surgical obstetrics.

    Chandler Stisher, M.D., M.P.H., is an assistant professor of family medicine and the family medicine clerkship director at the UAB Heersink School of Medicine and associate director of the UAB-Huntsville Family Medicine Residency.


    The opinions and views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions and views of the American Academy of Family Physicians. This blog is not intended to provide medical, financial, or legal advice. All comments are moderated and will be removed if they violate our Terms of Use.