May 11, 2018

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

The 2018 Beard Award recipient is an MCG student
He is a native of Valdosta, Georgia. A member of the Gold Humanism Honor Society. A recipient of a National Health Service Corps Scholarship from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A member of the university’s chapter of Alpha Upsilon Phi, which promotes and recognizes service and leadership efforts. While he was going to medical school and volunteering extensively to help those who need medical care, he was also working on his masters in theological studies. Dr. William H. Salazar, a professor, educator and mentor, who himself is an avid volunteer and volunteer leader, says of Matthew Thomas Rivera-Bloodworth: “His level of caring for his patients is inspirational.”

Matthew Thomas Rivera-Bloodworth is this year’s honoree
Dr. Salazar goes on to say that Matt has the unique ability to be both a leader and a team player, to both listen and ask questions well, to be easy going but effective, to be quiet yet engaging. Matt also is the 2018 recipient of the John F. Beard Award for a graduating student from the university who exemplifies caring and compassion in health care, see here. I can tell you from my own interactions with Matt, that he definitely does exemplify the intent of this generous honor established 20 years ago by William Porter “Billy” Payne and his wife Martha in honor of her father who died of cancer the year before. I have witnessed first-hand how Matt slips effortlessly between the role of servant and servant leader. MCG is proud to be Matt’s medical school and I feel certain that we always will be. He will now be pursuing a family medicine residency at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry’s Strong Memorial Hospital in New York.

Today we graduate the MCG Class of 2018
Today, Matt’s class, the Class of 2018, officially graduates. It is a true privilege to have a role in educating the next generation of physicians but, not unlike with your own children, while you are proud of what they accomplish, you can’t help but feel some sadness or at least mixed emotions when they move on. But like our class presidents Donald David Davis, or triple D, from our main campus, and Mark Zapata, from the Athens campus, shared at Hooding yesterday, the professional and personal lessons they learned from us and each other go with them, and their classmates are and will be their friends. I hope they also know that, like a good parent, their medical school will always be with them as well.

1982 graduate Dr. Walter Curran was our great Hooding speaker
Like our newly graduating students, our 1982 graduate and Hooding speaker was and is phenomenal.  Dr. Walter J. Curran Jr. is executive director of the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University, an expert in lung cancer and malignant brain tumors and, in fact, the first radiation oncologist to lead a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. He shared with us yesterday, his early mentors like the late Bishop John D’Arcy (see here) who was a priest at a church outside of Boston when he asked the 11-year-old altar boy – who would become the first college graduate in his family – if he had any way to make money. Dr. Curran said maybe he would like to shine shoes, and in just a few days he was cleaning up all the priests’ beat up black shoes in a business that would last four years. He acknowledged both the reality of physician burnout and the true joy of medicine, sharing how as a second-year resident he used an innovative treatment to save the tongue, face and possibly the life of a 9-month-old from a big sarcoma. Last week, that now-grown man had his first child. Dr. Curran assured the great, new MCG graduates before him that the bonds created here were lifelong, that, in fact, the top breast cancer surgeons at Piedmont and Northside hospitals were his classmates as was Dr. Henry Cline, who is leading the Tommy and Shirley Strickland Cancer Center in Vidalia.

The first Harrison Scholars are among the graduating class
There is no doubt that when our students become our alumni, their stories continue to amaze. We talked a couple of weeks ago about the unveiling of the bust of 1948 MCG graduate Dr. J. Harold Harrison in the lobby of the Harrison Commons during Alumni Weekend. It really was a great and inspiring celebration and, I hope, fitting of this very distinguished alumnus who we continue to honor for his game-changing contributions to medicine and to his alma mater. One great example of his impact is that the first five Harrison Scholars are among those who also graduate today.

Robert MacDonnell, Stanton Royer, Travis Welsh, Anna Willis and Matthew Winn are the first graduating Harrison Scholars
The inaugural scholarship recipients in the Class of 2018 include Robert MacDonnell of Augusta, who will be studying orthopaedic surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine and Shands Hospital; Stanton Royer, who was born in Kansas but spent most of his childhood in Augusta and will be staying right here to study emergency medicine; and Travis Welsh, a native of Tyrone, Georgia who will be studying internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. In this great first lineup we also have Anna Willis, of Powder Springs, Georgia, who will be doing a transitional year at Utah’s largest hospital, Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, before studying radiology at the University of Utah’s affiliated hospitals; and Matthew Winn from Peachtree City, who will be studying general surgery and doing two years of research at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. I know these students will continue to reflect well on the legacy of Dr. Harrison and their medical school.

Drs. Carbone and Isales are the newest Harrison Chairs
Even as the first Harrison scholarship recipients graduate, we announce this week as well the two latest Harrison Chairs. You may remember that Dr. Harrison’s gift to MCG also enabled the establishment of 10 endowed chairs to help us recruit and/or retain great faculty. Our latest recipients are Dr. Laura Carbone, chief of the Department of Medicine’s Division of Rheumatology, and Dr. Carlos Isales, chief of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism. These two physician scientists are compelling, accomplished individuals who, like so many of you, continue to be excited about what they do each day and are great contributors on all three of our frontlines. Please join me in congratulating and thanking them and please see here.

The Class of 2021 throws a prom for teen patients
On the (hopefully) remote chance that the information we have already shared with you today did not grab you, please take just a couple of minutes to watch this.  As you will see, our Class of 2021 held a prom for teen patients last Saturday who could not go to their own prom this year. As Shelby Howard, vice president for community service for her class says, prom is a big deal and great memory of our formative years that she and her classmates did not want these young people to miss. I want to thank Shelby and her classmates, and a long list of community businesses and individuals like Men’s Warehouse, the Cancer Warrior’s Support Organization and Ebony’s Flowers and Gifts, for sharing and enhancing our students’ vision on this one. It’s yet another reminder of the good among us and what we can do together.

The first BS to MD students are among our freshmen
More to come on this in the future but I wanted to also note here that Shelby is among the first 20 BS to MD students now enrolled in MCG. This program started post-consolidation and enables high-performing students who qualify to finish undergraduate and medical school in just seven years. They first study cell and molecular biology in the AU College of Science and Math’s Department of Biological Sciences. If they do well, and these 20 did exceptionally, they become medical students. Shelby is a great example of the well-rounded and academically excellent students who are now at MCG from this program.

Drs. Yunchao Su and Yuqing Huo get $2.2 million NIH grant
I wanted to close today with an impactful science note, but it’s kind of hard to breathe when talking about this one. Dr. Yunchao Su in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, and Dr. Yuqing Huo in the Vascular Biology Center, want to better understand and help treat pulmonary hypertension. This condition is just what it sounds like: when pressure is too high in the lungs. As you can imagine, pulmonary hypertension, which can occur at a variety of ages for a variety of reasons from smoking to birth defects, creates a state of hypoxia, which, seemingly ironically, further constricts the muscles that help us inhale and exhale, ultimately further decreasing blood flow and generating a vicious, destructive cycle. Drs. Su and Huo are looking at an enzyme that goes up in this scenario, ostensibly to provide energy, but, like the hypoxia, just makes things worse. Long story short, with the help of a new $2.2 million NIH grant they are pursuing a new target to intervene early and stop these vicious cycles. I thank them for taking on this tough clinical problem and working hard to find a better answer. See here.


Upcoming Events

Today – Graduation, 2 p.m., James Brown Arena.

May 25 – MCG Faculty Senate, noon, Lee Auditorium.

June 22 – MCG Faculty Senate, noon, Lee Auditorium.

July 30 – Freshman Reception, 5 p.m., Harrison Commons, sponsored by the MCG Alumni Association.

August 1 – Freshman Lunch, noon, AU/UGA Medical Partnership campus, Athens, sponsored by the MCG Alumni Association.

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