June 23, 2017

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

MCG starts a new Department of Population Health Sciences
For close to 200 years MCG has been educating great physicians, providing great care to patients and pursuing the science that paves the way for better health. While today much of our research and clinical focus is on providing better individualized, or targeted, treatment, we also want to strengthen our more global efforts. We are establishing a Department of Population Health Sciences that will look broadly at what ails certain populations of individuals, why it affects them and then what we can do to best help. We do this because it fits with our mission as Georgia’s public medical school and because, as most of you know, Georgia’s health statistics are largely dismal. Our state ranks, for example, 46th in low birthweight babies and 37th in premature death. The new department, which becomes effective July 1, will actually help us better help individuals as well as the many, diverse populations and subpopulations among us with the greater good health of everyone in mind.

Dr. Varghese George is chair; Dr. Greg Harshfield is vice chair
The MCG Department of Population Health Sciences consolidates the already extensive efforts of the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology and the Georgia Prevention Institute. The common passion of these groups made their coming together a natural fit, and the synergy and growth that can result also made it desirable. Dr. Varghese George, chair of biostatistics, will chair this new department. Dr. Greg Harshfield, longtime leader of the GPI, will serve as vice chair. Dr. Harshfield also will continue to lead the GPI, which will be one of three divisions in the new department. Dr. Jie Chen, director of graduate programs for the biostatistics department, will serve as chief of the new Division of Biostatistics and Data Science that will help design, orchestrate and interpret scientific research and data across MCG and the university.  Dr. Shaoyong Su, genetic epidemiologist at the GPI, will serve as interim chief of the Division of Epidemiology, which looks at disease incidence and distribution. We anticipate epidemiology will be the first area we need to expand.

The new department will help strengthen statewide relationships and educational programs
As part of this effort, we want to strengthen our relationship with other natural partners like the CDC and the Georgia Department of Public Health that have the greater good at their core. While this program will not directly produce more physicians, we believe it will put in physicians’ hands better information on how to take even better care of their patients, and ultimately our entire state. We plan to pursue a training grant from the National Institutes of Health to support doctoral and postdoctoral training programs. We want to add a master’s degree in epidemiology and in data science – this one will have two tracts: genomics and cybersecurity. We already offer a master’s and doctorate in biostatistics and train postdoctoral fellows. There also are master’s and certificate programs in clinical and translational science. I do appreciate the leadership that Drs. George and Harshfield and others have shown in making this refocused initiative and department happen.

A new Task Force on Improvement of Overall Health Status for Georgia also being formed
In a related matter, I have also asked Dr. Doug Patten, associate dean of the Southwest Campus, and Denise D. Kornegay, executive director of the Georgia Statewide Area Health Education Centers Network, to co-chair a new Task Force on Improvement of Overall Health Status for Georgia. This followed an impassioned presentation by Dr. Patten at a recent Dean’s Staff meeting, where he talked about our obligation as Georgia’s public medical school to improve public health.  The group of seven to 10 members will take a comprehensive look at our state and formulate a strategy. We hope to include representatives of Mercer University School of Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine, the CDC and the Georgia Department of Public Health in this endeavor. In fact, Dr. Keisha R. Callins, who was named chair of Mercer’s Department of Community Medicine earlier this year, has already joined the group. I think these parallel efforts will again provide synergy and opportunity and help us better address the health status of Georgians. I am certain there will be great collaboration between the new department and task force in their shared goals and distinctive strengths.

Ground broken on cybersecurity facility, new School of Computer and Cyber Sciences announced 
Back to cybersecurity for just a moment. It was a big week for this huge topic nationally and in our community. This week, Gov. Nathan Deal was here for the groundbreaking of the 168,000-square-foot facility that will house the Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center. The building downtown on the Savannah River will house educational training programs from AU and Augusta Technical College, a cyber-crime unit from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, other state agencies, federal agencies and private industry. AU will run day-to-day operations and manage the cyber training. Then just yesterday, President Keel announced the new School of Computer and Cyber Sciences, which is clearly in keeping with this major initiative for AU and Georgia.

Dr. Andy Albritton taking on new role at the Partnership campus
As we talk about making a positive impact on our state and beyond, we want to thank Dr. Andy Albritton, senior associate dean for curriculum, for his significant contributions to MCG for nearly 30 years. He is leaving Augusta but not MCG. Later this summer he will be moving to Athens and our Partnership campus where he will be directing Clinical Skills, assisting in student and resident education and helping staff the resident continuity clinic. His steady countenance and commitment to our students and to medical education will always be remembered and appreciated. Dr. Renee Page, who has served for two years as MCG’s Associate Dean for Curriculum, has assumed leadership responsibilities for the curriculum office.

Brain Health Symposium set for Saturday 
Tomorrow morning it will be my distinct privilege to open the 2017 Brain Health Symposium at our university and medical school. This great event at the Harrison Commons now has about 600 registrants, including patients and families as well as health professionals. It brings together our own significant experts like Dr. Kapil Sethi in Parkinson’s and Dr. John Morgan in Alzheimer’s, with outside experts. Keynote speakers include individuals like Dr. Daniel Weintraub, professor of psychiatry and neurology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, who recently published, for example, an interesting study on possible new biomarkers that should help predict which Parkinson’s patients will have the most trouble with cognition in the first few years after their diagnosis. See here.

Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s are the symposium focus 
Please know that this is the first time we have had a combined symposium on Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s. We did so because of the common ground these conditions share in both who gets them, the needs of patients and families dealing with them and the professionals who specialize in them. We particularly thank Kathy Tuckey, outreach coordinator in the Memory Disorders Program, for her commitment to exceptional care for patients and an exceptional program. See here. I believe that with the synergy and energy we are building together in every aspect of what we do as Georgia’s public medical school, the best years are ahead for us and for our state. Thank you all again for being great colleagues.

Respectfully yours,

David C. Hess, M.D.
Dean, Medical College of Georgia

Upcoming Events

June 29 – MCG Faculty Senate meeting, noon, Lee Auditorium.

Aug. 2 – First day of class for the Class of 2021.

Aug. 11 – State of the College Address, noon, Lee Auditorium

Oct. 5 – Fifth Annual Investiture Ceremony, 5:30 p.m., Lee Auditorium, honoring new endowed chairs, Regents’ professors and emeritus faculty.

Oct. 27 – White coat ceremony, details to come.

Nov. 10 – Annual Memorial Service for Body Donors, 1 p.m., Lee Auditorium. Donors’ families and friends are the honored guests.

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