Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Today’s official Match Day celebration canceled

It has definitely been an interesting and concerning few weeks with cases of coronavirus escalating in our state and nation, including identification of the first known cases here in Augusta. While most of us have heard a lot on this topic particularly in these last few weeks, part of the reason is the tremendous impact it is having not only on the infected individuals and their families and friends but on us all. Who would have thought that the day just a few weeks ago that many of us heard “coronavirus” for the first time that it would mean the shuttering of schools and emptying of store shelves and the delay of the prestigious Masters Tournament in Augusta. Who would have thought that it would mean the canceling of the official Match Day celebration and so many other rites of passage that our seniors so deserve.

But the success of the Class of 2020 has just begun

I didn’t even attend Match Day at my medical school, but I have always figured I would have definitely been there if it were anything like it is here. Such pure joy and fun for students who have worked so hard. Please know, our amazing Class of 2020, how sorry I am that you cannot have this celebration with your classmates and your families. But know as well, we did not make this or any decision that has affected you or any of our students lightly. Your medical school had to do what we felt was most prudent for your wellbeing and to do as our nation’s and university system leaders asked us all to do to help contain this virus. I understand that Match Day is a pivotal day in your lives, but what will come after will be even more so, I promise. It kind of reminds me of a wedding and a marriage. The day I married Diane, who many of you know, about 35 years ago, was a for-sure pivotal day but what would come later and continues today is what matters most.

The Raft Debate, Alumni Weekend, other key events also canceled or postponed

In ways I guess, the canceling of Match Day, also the Raft Debate, and so many other great events here also is not hugely different from a lesson you have already learned so early in your careers: Disease can totally disrupt the life of an individual and everyone who cares about him or her. This virus has in ways infected your lives, but like so many other brave individuals, I know you will shake this off, and like the 9,000+ graduates who are part of the nearly 200-year legacy of your medical school, you will go forward to do great things. I was asked the other day to write a philanthropy letter for our new 3+ curriculum that we have talked about here and elsewhere, and it made me smile to think about the endless comments we hear from residency programs across the nation of just how well prepared our students are. Those comments particularly resonate this time of year as another group of students move forward. I have no doubt that you will fall right in line with that storied tradition.

But there will be celebration today with a virtual Match event

In fact, you showed your mettle just this week. In the final hours leading up to today, you put your heads and talent together to come up with a virtual celebration since the actual one could not happen. Class President Miller Singleton says classmate Jennifer Wang actually pulled together a website just for today, Just yesterday some of us who are privileged to lead MCG recorded messages for the class that will live there, the National Resident Matching Program is going to send emails to everybody at noon, instead of 1 p.m., so everybody still starts finding out at noon where they are headed, and the class is encouraged to post video and pictures of their independent celebrations with family and friends on social media, posts that will also find a home on the Match website. There’s even an interactive map where students can post where they will be doing their training so they can see themselves fanning out across Georgia and the nation. Miller says the class curriculum VP Tommy Ng and Dr. Kim Loomer, associate dean of student and multicultural affairs, were also phenomenal in pulling this virtual event together fast. “We’re excited,” she says. I am too, Miller.

And the Class of 2020 will rock the world

I share all this today in these rather public writings rather than in a note just to you, our Class of 2020, so that everyone will know how proud I am of you, for what brought you to medicine and to Georgia’s only public medical school and for the work I know you will do to change lives and change the world. It is you who will find and deliver the next generation of cures for diseases that disrupt and destroy. It is you who will be there to take care of us as I hope we have helped take care of you. So I hope, rather than a day of sadness, today, Match Day, will mark for you the beginning of weeks of celebration for what you have done and will do. Congratulations.

Didactic learning is online; clinical rotations suspended

The impact on the availability of everything from meat to daycare has really forced us to take a look at not only how we celebrate milestones in medical education, but how we teach.  Didactic learning has gone online. Our colleagues across the state that enable medical education by opening their practices and hospitals to our students are having to shift how they practice. In fact, we are cutting back on some of our own clinic offerings while expanding capacity on others to accommodate shifting need and emerging restrictions. A bottom line is effective this week, clinical rotations for our third- and fourth-year students have been suspended likely through next month. Undaunted, many great academic minds here and across Georgia came up with the idea of a novel Pandemic Medicine Elective that will allow our students to get the continued clinical experience they need while delivering needed service to our state, never mind invaluable experience since these students likely will be leading the charge against the next pandemic. I think it’s a win-win which, like the education of one of the nation’s largest medical school classes, just would not be possible without our amazing regional campus partners. I don’t know if you have ever checked this out, but you can see and meet some of these awesome individuals right here. Like the stories I hear about our medical students, the privilege of knowing the many individuals and institutions across Georgia who embrace MCG and its students is really something. I thank as well our agile Office of Academic Affairs that, under the leadership of Dr. Doug Miller, always maneuvers around obstacles to find great solutions. Thank you.

MCG, AU leaders stand together to keep students, staff, community safe

Speaking of nimble, I also wanted to thank here Dr. Phillip Coule, Chief Medical Officer of our Health System and 1996 MCG graduate, as well as Katrina Keefer, CEO of our Health System; Dr. Jose Vazquez, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases; and President Keel and Chief of Staff Russell Keen for their leadership in getting us out ahead of this virus with information and action about how best to prepare, stay safe and enable us to set a strong example for others as a health sciences university. I have been part of the ongoing discussions and decisions and I can tell you that telling hardworking individuals like you to do things like work at home, if you can, are not easy decisions. I appreciate each of you stepping up to do what was asked and for showing that, even though none of us like what is happening, we do what we should. Thank you.

GEM lab team develops novel coronavirus test that enables local testing

Speaking of hard working, the staff of the Georgia Esoteric and Molecular Laboratory, aptly acronymized as GEM, in our Department of Pathology, has never met a tough problem they won’t take on. This team, under the leadership of Dr. Ravi Kolhe, specializes in high complexity testing. In the last few weeks while we have all been hearing about coronavirus, they were also hearing and knowing that it would be great if local testing was available to enable positive or negative results within a few hours rather than a few days, which it currently takes as samples taken from patients here are sent to verified coronavirus testing facilities like the CDC or state health labs. We are on the list to get the test that is being used at many of these labs, but the demand is high and the wait too long for this team. So they put their heads and hearts together and designed a modified version of that test that early evidence indicates is 100% effective and whose results can be available to individuals within a couple hours rather than days. Like the many public events we are canceling and social distancing we are practicing, you can imagine the sooner an infected individual knows, the better we can help them and contain viral spread. An important BTW, like baking a cake from scratch, this team had to go shopping for all the ingredients needed to make their test that looks for two genetic markers which are unique to the 2019 virus we are all hearing about and are required for its survival. I am very proud of this lab and this team always but I have to say this was a valiant, round-the-clock effort and I thank them yet again. This “GEM” of a team includes Dr. Ashis Mondal, lab supervisor; Kimya Jones, lab manager; research associates Sudha Ananth and Yasmeen Jilani; postdocs Drs. Pankaj Ahluwalia, Nikhil Sahajpal and Dr. Meenakshi Ahluwalia; and molecular pathology fellow Dr. Allan Njau. 

1956 MCG graduate Dr. Milton B. Satcher Jr., passes

Finally today, we note the passing of the distinguished 1956 MCG graduate Dr. Milton B. Satcher Jr. This native Augustan practiced orthopaedic surgery for about 40 years in the Atlanta area before retiring to Greensboro, Georgia. He returned to his hometown frequently and was a regular at MCG Alumni Events.  His many professional accomplishments include serving as president of the Georgia Orthopaedic Society and being a great supporter of our Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. In fact, his family asks that memorials for Dr. Satcher be made to the endowment fund of the Milton B. Satcher Jr. MD Orthopaedic Resident Award at the MCG Foundation established just last year. Also in keeping with the great traditions of this medical school and its graduates, our also distinguished Dr. Monte Hunter, chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, holds the Milton B. Satcher Jr. MD, Distinguished Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery. We thank Dr. Satcher again for his service to medicine and support of his alma mater. Our thoughts are with his family.

Upcoming Events

March 24 — Athens Alumni Regional Reception, 6 p.m., Home of Dr. Mark and Betsy Ellison, 1982 graduate and Athens urologist. POSTPONED.

April 17 – The Raft Debate, the annual fun, educational deliberation of which type of doctor should get the only raft on a sinking ship, sponsored by the MCG Alumni Association, 6:30 p.m., Harrison Commons. CANCELED.

April 24-26 – Alumni Weekend featuring the MCG Dean’s Reception and Alumni Association Banquet, 6 p.m., April 24 at the Augusta Marriott; Campus Discovery Tours, 9:45 a.m., April 25, starts at the Summerville Campus; President’s Cookout, noon, April 25, D. Douglas Barnard Jr.  Amphitheater, Summerville Campus; Reunion Dinners, 6 p.m. reception, 7 p.m. dinner, 9 p.m. Alumni After-Party, Augusta Marriott; MCG Emeritus Club Breakfast, 9:30 a.m., MCG Alumni Memorial Service, 10:30 a.m., both in the J. Harold Harrison M.D. Education Commons. POSTPONED

April 29 – MCG Faculty Senate Awards, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Lee Auditorium. WE ARE EXPLORING OPTIONS.

April 30 – President Keel’s State of the University Address, 11 a.m., Maxwell Theatre, Summerville Campus.

May 7 – Hooding, 2 p.m., Bell Auditorium. Reception follows in the Old Medical College building on Telfair Street. WE ARE CURRENTLY LOOKING AT OPTIONS

May 8 – Graduation, 2 p.m., James Brown Arena POSTPONED

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