June 28, 2024

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

We welcome new residents and fellows this week

It’s been nearly 140 years since William Osler established America’s first formal residency program at Johns Hopkins University in 1889, as that institution’s first hospital opened and became a training ground for the students and recent graduates of the medical school founded a few years before. True to MCG’s usual form, we were on the cutting edge of medical education even back then. We had started our first training program – although it was not formally recognized – for recent graduates a year before that, in 1888, when our faculty appointed the first honor student from each graduating class as house physician at what was then-called City Hospital (later known as University Hospital, now Piedmont Augusta). Needless to say, our training programs have grown a bit since that time. MCG and Wellstar MCG Health educate around 575 residents and fellows in 50 Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education-accredited programs. This week we welcomed our newest 186 trainees to campus. It’s always an exhilarating time for them and for us, because I believe having learners of all levels around to ask intriguing questions and keep us all up to date on the latest advances in medicine makes us all better physicians.

Patient Safety Day helps kickoff week of welcome for new trainees

An integral part of these new residents and fellows first days here is our annual Making Healthcare SAFER training program — a day-long course held at the Interdisciplinary Simulation Center in the Harrison Commons that sees these trainees learning how to make high-risk procedures, bedside care and teamwork, as its name implies, safer. They learn about everything from basic handwashing to best techniques for arterial line placements, from how to be aware of potential pressure injuries to how to report critical incidents that could endanger themselves and their patients. Errors in health care delivery are a leading cause of death and injury — some reports indicate they are the leading cause. Research shows us that around half of these are preventable. Deaths due to preventable adverse events exceed the deaths from motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer and AIDS and national costs are estimated between $17 billion and $29 billion each year.

It goes without saying that ensuring the safety of the people we are privileged to care for is a top priority at this medical school and our teaching hospital. My thanks to the rockstar team that makes the yeoman’s task of coordinating this massive training effort look easy — particularly to MCG’s Educational Simulation Team; Dr. Matt Lyon, our associate dean for experiential learning; Dr. Phillip Coule, CMO for Wellstar MCG Health; Dr. Will Cagle, the health system’s chief patient safety officer; Dr. Jose Vazquez, chief of infectious diseases; Dr. Natasha Savage, who expertly leads our GME efforts; Vicky Wingrove, administrative assistant in our Center for Telehealth and Dr. Lyon’s right hand; and nurse instructor in our Department of Emergency Medicine and director of bedside procedures in experiential learning, Cara Jones, who I’m told this whole effort would fall apart without. Thank you all.

New Immunology Center of Georgia faculty delving into spleen’s role in atherosclerosis              

Speaking of making herculean efforts look easy…When we established the Immunology Center of Georgia in 2022 and recruited world-renowned immunologists Drs. Lynn Hedrick and Klaus Ley to lead it, they came to me with a clear vision and purpose. They wanted to recruit 20 new scientists who, like them, have a sharp focus on how to strengthen the immune system’s ability to fight the nation’s two leading killers, cancer and cardiovascular disease. I’m happy to report they’re about halfway there, with eight new recruits so far, and no evidence of slowing down. These new-to-us scientists include the likes of Dr. Adil Rasheed, who is helping better define the role of the spleen in atherosclerosis. Scientists have long known that immune cells in the spleen and bone marrow contribute to the development of atherosclerosis’ hallmark plaques, but not how. In a recent study published in Nature Cardiovascular Research, Dr. Rasheed identified a protein that essentially regulates the development of these immune cells in the spleen. The ability to target them specifically means they could essentially neutralize them in cardiovascular disease and develop new treatments that would not affect the body’s overall immunity.

More great recruits are coming

Their new recruits also include people like Dr. Nicholas Gascoigne, whose research explores CAR-T cell function in cancer immunotherapy, who will join us Dec. 1. Certainly well-known in the field, he is a previous professor and head of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the National University of Singapore and before that at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. His research focuses on T cell signaling, activation and development, with a particular focus on the impact of the microbiome and the signaling pathways in CAR-T cells, a type of immunotherapy treatment that uses genetically altered T cells to fight cancer. I know Dr. Gascoigne, who will also have an appointment in the Georgia Cancer Center, will help amplify our efforts to improve this cutting edge therapy and offer the best possible treatments for our patients.

Plans for MCG Savannah at Georgia Southern ribbon cutting taking shape; Please join us July 25 and 26

Making big lifts seem simple seems to be our theme this week, just like collaboration was last time. Since the announcement of our third four-year campus, MCG Savannah at Georgia Southern, last May, we have kept the pedal to the metal so that we would be prepared to accept our first class of 40 students there this July. That is happening the week of July 22 and that is due in large part to the force that is Dr. Elizabeth Gray, our founding campus dean, who seems to know everyone in Savannah and who to ask for whatever and whoever she needs. I know we’ve talked endlessly here about this campus, but I wanted to share some new details about activities surrounding its official opening. First, on Thursday night, July 25th, at Vic’s on the River, a favorite of mine and of Savannah’s, we’ll host these new students for a special presentation, where they’ll receive their first stethoscope, a gift from an MCG alum. It’s always a touching ceremony. Then on Friday, July 26, at 11 a.m., at our campus offices at Georgia Southern’s Armstrong Center, we’ll host the campus’ official ribbon cutting. That will be followed by tours of the great facilities there and at the Health Professions Academic Center, where our SIM lab and Anatomy lab will be housed. That will be followed by a delicious lunch from another one of my favorite restaurants down that way. But I’ll keep that a secret for now – I hope you’ll join us on the 25th and/or the 26th.

Dr. Vaughn McCall retires

Yesterday we all gathered in the Harrison Lobby to say “See you later” to Dr. Vaughn McCall, who is retiring today. Dr. McCall has been the Case Distinguished University Chair, expertly leading our Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior since 2012. He has also been a sound adviser to me as executive vice dean. He is a prolific investigator and expert in the horrible trifecta of depression, insomnia and suicide and his research was supported for 22 years by the National Institutes of Health. Just three years ago, he was ranked number 43 in the world for scholarship on the topic of suicide (the top 0.15 %), and among the top 14 psychiatrists in the world, and the top 5 in the USA. But more than all of those things, Dr. McCall has been an amazing friend and colleague whose steady, methodical approach and thoughtful attention to any problem he encounters will certainly be missed. His retirement is bittersweet. Lucky for them, he and his wife, Dawn, are moving closer to their children and grandchildren. But this will be a tremendous loss to our medical school and to the patients Dr. McCall has no doubt helped over his time here. He tells us that thankfully, he fully intends to stay involved in research. I’m sure his impact on psychiatry will continue for years to come. Thank you, Dr. McCall for your service to me, to this medical school, to current and future leaders in your field, and to your patients.

My best to you all,

Dean Hess Signature

David C. Hess, MD

Dean, Medical College of Georgia

Upcoming Events

June 21 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

July 1 – Presidential Welcome Reception, 11 am,  Summerville Campus, Roscoe Williams Ballroom

July 26 – MCG Savannah at Georgia Southern Ribbon Cutting, 11 am, Armstrong Campus, Savannah