Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

The free mental health clinic is doing great
This is another one of those many proud moments as dean. We talked back in April about how chief psychiatry resident Dr. Norah Essali wanted to find a free mental health clinic where she could volunteer, and when she couldn’t she decided to start one. The after-hours, last Thursday of the month clinic started April 25 and I am very pleased to share that it has been a success by every definition of that word. Dr. Essali tells us they are averaging about 20 patients each time, which is about perfect for the great volunteers there with her to help. She says, not surprisingly, that our medical students continue to be particularly amazing and generous with their time and interest. But how about this? Undergraduate students from the university also have volunteered both to help, and to see if maybe a career in medicine is for them. MBA students at AU also observed the clinic as part of a class project on nonprofits and subsequently made good business suggestions to further streamline the process of seeing patients so no one has to wait too long.

Depression, anxiety are two of the main conditions that bring patients
Experience to date has shown that way too many of these patients already have had to wait too long to even have mental health care as an option. The most common problems they bring to the clinic, Dr. Essali tells us, are depression and anxiety. But the clinic has pretty much seen patients with all types of mental illness, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She tells us about one woman in her 30s, who was employed, but due to a variety of life circumstances, had not been able to find out what mental illness was so dramatically impacting her life. At the clinic, she was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety, and treated for those problems, which included help getting the prescription medication she needed to be well.

Volunteer caregivers continue to fine tune clinic operation, consider expanding to children
This young woman is now enjoying life again, which Dr. Essali, says is what you always hope to hear as a physician from your patients. It’s also what a medical school dean hopes to hear about the efforts of our faculty, staff, residents and students. While the clinic remains a work in progress, with ongoing discussions about improving care and maybe even expanding service to also treat children instead of adults only, it was clearly work that needed doing in our community. I again congratulate and thank Dr. Essali, our Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior and our students for taking the lead.

New health system CEO Katrina Keefer starts next week
Monday we welcome the new CEO of our health system, Katrina Keefer. She comes to us after about a dozen years as senior vice president and chief financial officer for Baptist Health in Montgomery, Alabama, an affiliate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The Montgomery-based health system is large and includes three acute care hospitals and a freestanding ambulatory surgery center, psychiatric hospital and regional cancer center and a branch campus of UAB School of Medicine, which actually opened during her tenure. She also has helped increase family medicine and internal medicine residency slots and has solid experience in key areas like management agreements and enabling health professionals to do what they do best. I believe she has a heart and eye for medical education and research, in addition to helping create an environment that enables our great faculty, nurses and others to take great care of patients and their families.

Pathway to Med School program finds its way to MCG
Speaking of supporting medical education, nobody is any better at that than the Georgia Statewide Area Health Education Centers network, or AHEC. AHEC is based right here at MCG and this week, the Southwest Georgia AHEC, which covers 38 counties like Echols and Coffee counties, had 15 college students from down that way up here for a tour as part of their Pathway to Med School program. This nationally honored program has a serious – and MCG familiar – focus on primary care and rural health care. It helps interested students learn more about medical school as it increases the likelihood they will gain entry and encourages them to strongly consider a rewarding career practicing primary care in an area of our state that needs them most.

This program focusing on rural, primary care, fits MCG’s mission
As we have recently discussed, the need unfortunately is significant throughout most of our state, since essentially the whole state – outside of the Augusta and Atlanta areas – is designated by the federal government as a Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Area. How is this for success in taking that problem on: of the 127 students who have successfully completed the Pathway to Med School program since 2004, 90 percent applied and were accepted into medical school. I am confident time spent at MCG by college students from southwest Georgia will help enable this kind of continued success. My thanks to many on this front, particularly to AHEC executive director Denise Kornegay for keeping her eye on all of Georgia.

The first day of class for freshmen is Aug. 5
Our pre-matriculation program also is wrapping up right now for 15 students in our brand new Class of 2023 who chose to participate in this great, six-week medical school warmup. First day of actual class is August 5 so we will be talking more next time about the lineup of this great class including more about a student who already spent her first few days of life with us. Stay tuned.

 Dr. Lois Ellison exhibit open at the Greenblatt Library
We want to thank Renée Sharrock, curator of University Libraries, and Sarah Braswell, MCG historical research coordinator, for putting together this neat exhibit honoring MCG’s late medical historian in residence and matriarch Dr. Lois Ellison. The exhibit features a few of her many awards, which are on loan from her family, as well as photographs. It will be on display until the end of September on the second floor of the Robert B. Greenblatt, MD, Library. Please take a moment to stop by.

The passing of Drs. Randolph Smith and Reginald Pilcher
Finally today, we join Augusta in mourning the loss of two MCG graduates who helped take good care of the children and adults of our city and beyond. Dr. Randolph Smith, a plastic and hand surgeon and 1970 MCG graduate, and Dr. Reginald Pilcher, a pediatrician and 1983 MCG graduate. Dr. Smith could have played professional football but chose medicine. He would become a physician and community leader, a powerful advocate for University Hospital where he practiced for more than 40 years and a volunteer surgeon in developing countries. Dr. Pilcher was a graduate of Augusta College who would first work as a high school teacher, then as a comprehensive health planning director before coming to MCG. He would remain a lifelong advocate of children as a pediatrician for more than 30 years who also helped found Augusta’s Child Advocacy Center. Our thoughts are with their many friends and family members.


Upcoming Events

July 31 – MCG Alumni Association Freshman Lunch to welcome students to the AU/UGA Medical Partnership campus, noon on campus.

Aug. 1 – MCG Alumni Association Freshman Reception in Augusta, 5 p.m., Harrison Commons.

Aug. 5 – First day of class for MCG freshmen.

Oct. 19 – White Coat Ceremony, 2 p.m., Bell Auditorium.

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