August 18, 2017

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Early start on distant educational sites helped MCG establish a strong statewide network
We have talked some about how one of the things that intrigued and honestly excited me most when I assumed my dean duties a few months back was our statewide campus network and presence. There are so many people to thank for the great thinking that enabled the early steps across our state. People like Drs. Ohlen Wilson, Joseph Hobbs and Joseph Tollison in our Department of Family Medicine who, back in the 1970s and 80s, were rightly thinking that our then-class of 180 students needed more primary care experience to hopefully help address the shortage of these frontline physicians. They also knew that experience needed to happen in places like Augusta but also throughout our expansive and largely rural state, and that there were plenty of great doctors out there who would help.

Adding strong research and clinical components to the campus network will enhance MCG
Today, Georgia is truly our campus, with an educational network that has our students doing just what those good doctors looked toward about 40 years ago: living and learning in diverse medical environments that correctly reflect our state and that help prepare them to practice really anything, anywhere. In my first State of the College address last Friday, it was my privilege to propose that we continue to build and strengthen what others started, that part of the Blueprint for our Future be using this strong, primarily educational network as a framework to build stronger clinical and research initiatives as well. Like those early thinkers and latter day leaders such as Drs. Iqbal Khan, Andy Albritton, Kathryn Martin, Paul Wallach and former Deans Doug Miller and Peter Buckley, we want to realize the vision of helping truly transform the health of our state by being immersed in our state with everything we have to offer. There is certainly plenty of work to do. Across the nearly 58,000 square miles and more than 10 million people who are Georgia, 108 of our 159 counties have less than 35,000 residents. The poverty rate in rural Georgia is about 24 percent while the overall poverty rate is about 17 percent. Health rates for our state seem even worse, with numbers like 41 out of 50 for overall health, 36th for cardiovascular health and 44th for clinical care.

GRITS will further expand and strengthen MCG’s discovery endeavors
Like the diverse opportunities our educational programs offer our students, our state and its people give those of us with primarily a clinical or research focus new and endless and meaningful opportunities to grow as well. Together with our partners throughout Georgia, we will build a unique and truly statewide academic health system. Like any good relationship, this will be reciprocal. As an example, we can collect blood from patients in rural Georgia that will enable genomic studies that help us understand why these individuals are at increased risk for conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Then, we will take what we learn to identify individual risk and help those patients live healthier lives.  I ask that you think about how this will work for you, for MCG and for Georgia and that you share your ideas with me. I propose that part of the research magic of this expanded health system will be GRITS, hopefully a soon to be easily recognizable acronym for the Georgia Research Institute for Translational Health Science. GRITS will further connect the basic and clinical investigators here and at the University of Georgia and across our state. Just think about how access to so many patients and big data and additional great minds can help us improve Georgia’s dismal health statistics but, most importantly, help us help improve Georgia lives, which is our reason for being. I am excited by this ‘big idea’ and will need each of you to make this happen.

Paul Hinchey, Dr. Joseph Hobbs honored during the State of the College Address
One of the many strong partners in the tremendous work already accomplished with our statewide network is Paul Hinchey, president and CEO of St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System in Savannah, a home base for our Southeast Campus. Mr. Hinchey is a tremendous advocate for his community, for our state and for our medical school. It was a true privilege for us to honor him at the State of the College with the Community Advocacy Award. Another familiar pioneer, Dr. Hobbs, MCG graduate, chair of family medicine and senior associate dean for faculty diversity and primary care, received the Professionalism Award for more reasons than we could begin to list here. But just as I felt confident in honoring them, see here, I do believe as well that with all of your help we can build upon our solid statewide foundation and become an even greater medical school.

Regents Hopkins and Hull and Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget visit
In recent weeks the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget came to see us. Planning and Budget’s primary focal points were the AU Health System and MCG and we appreciated their interest and attention. Dr. Tommy Hopkins, chair of the Board of Regents and a member of our health system board, and Regent Vice Chair Jim Hull, a native Augustan who serves on our foundation board, paid a visit to our Southeast and Southwest campuses. They met faculty and staff as well as students like fourth-year Trevor Hardigan, a Savannah native who plans to be a neurosurgeon, and Chidimma Ihenacho, an M4 from Snellville, who wants to go into family medicine and is going into the U.S. Air Force. Both of these students are living and learning at the Southeast Campus. At the Southwest Campus they met students like Andrew Mock, another fourth-year who likes family medicine and sports medicine and grew up in the Albany area, and David Mysona, another fourth-year with plans to be a gynecologic oncologist. The diverse interests of our students down that way appear to be a great example of the “prepared for anything” reality of our educational model. People like Joel Wernick, president and CEO of Phoebe Putney Health System in Albany, was another great example of the caliber of our partners. We appreciate Regents Hopkins and Hull’s interest and believe they had a great visit. My thanks to Drs. Martin, Wayne Rentz, Frances Purcell and Doug Patten and many others for being great hosts.

Nurse midwife Linda Randolph highlighted in Wall Street Journal piece on rural care
MCG is fortunate to get a fair amount of great media coverage, both locally and internationally, much of it about the great science and scientists here. I wanted to share this recent Wall Street Journal piece with you that Dr. Paul Browne, chief of maternal-fetal medicine, shared with me. It ties in perfectly with what we were discussing earlier about the health care needs of our state, particularly in the rural environs, and certified nurse midwife Linda Randolph says it better than I could ever hope to, see here. Linda was born in the Augusta area but her family now lives in Jackson, S.C. “I do love the country,” she says. Like many of you, she knew as a child that she wanted to help others and would find Louisville, Georgia, a great place to do that. “I see women who don’t feel strong or deserving. I want to be the person who says ‘Yes you are,’” says Linda, who along with senior community health Nurse Lisa Lumpkin, staffs the Jefferson Prenatal Clinic, something our health system has been doing for about 20 years. It is the lack of care and women’s right to it that drives Linda and makes her want to do even more in this rural community an hour’s distance from Augusta, like providing not only obstetrical care but gynecological care, she says. For example, she has already seen a dozen women pregnant this year, who were pregnant last year. Georgia ranks 43 in infant mortality and 47th in low birthweight babies. Linda and the rest of us can change that dismal statistic and many more.


Upcoming Events

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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