Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

We welcome the Class of 2024

Please join me in welcoming the Class of 2024 this coming Wednesday. You all know how I love history, so historically speaking this class will be the 188th graduating class of the Medical College of Georgia. It will also be the largest ever with 240 students — remember we added 10 students per class to the Athens campus contingent this year. Our freshmen come to us from 51 colleges, from Emory University to Johns Hopkins to Cornell up New York way, still all but four of our students are Georgians per our mission as Georgia’s only public medical school. The group also includes 20 homegrown students from the BS to MD program we have in collaboration with the AU College of Science and Mathematics, which enables eligible students to shave off a year of their undergraduate degree work. As we welcome our new students to one of the nation’s first medical schools, in the continuous, rigorous cycle of medical school admissions, we already are taking applications for the Class of 2025. Let me thank MCG graduate and Associate Dean for Admissions Dr. Kelli Braun, our 20-member Admissions Committee and the entire Admissions Office for helping ensure that an MCG education continues to be synonymous with great physicians. Let me also thank our newest students for choosing us as their medical school.

Incremental growth in family medicine residency supports renewed primary care focus

Our newest students will be the first group to complete their core curriculum in 18 months instead of 24, as part of a major reorganization that will enable a shortened path for our students who opt to pursue primary care in Georgia as well as more tailored tuning of the education process for those who choose other specialties. I think this 3+ program we have been talking about for many months is now progressing as a solid path for the health of our state and for MCG. The continued expansion of our family medicine residency program fits in well with that progress. This year we accepted a dozen residents instead of 10, which has been the usual since we moved from eight to 10 residents per year in 2017. Experience shows that those who do their residency in an area tend to stay in that area, and we are further strengthening that with an effort to recruit family medicine residents from Georgia, says Dr. Julie Dahl-Smith, residency program director. We also are growing more rural sites for our family medicine residents to learn more about their specialty and hopefully stir an interest in more underserved areas of our state like Waynesboro and Warrenton. Our partnership with University Hospital enables residents to spend time in their prompt care centers on the outskirts of our city and the emergency department at University Hospital McDuffie (County). Great moves.

Students of color share their insight, experiences with MCG leaders

People say sometimes that old habits are hard to put aside but I can assure you that our 192-year-old medical school is continuously evolving to better meet the needs of our state, the students and residents we are privileged to help educate, the patients we are honored to treat and the science we love to explore. I do admit that change can be hard and that, much as it is with our personal relationships, meaningful change often starts with listening. We talked in the middle of June about the deaths of too many individuals including Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick and George Floyd in Minneapolis and the epidemic of violence against people of color. I want you to know that we have continued and will continue to talk and to listen and to take the steps we can to ensure that MCG is a safe, supportive place to be, to learn, to practice and to pursue still better medicine for everyone. It has been humbling to spend time with our students and their advisors with the Student National Medical Association and the Latino Medical Student Association as we determine how best to move forward. As Dr. Doug Miller, vice dean for academic affairs said earlier this week, what we have heard has been both insightful and at times difficult to hear, but we have a responsibility to hear and to value what our student colleagues say. Monday night a handful of these students participated in our Dean’s Cabinet meeting so the entire leadership of MCG could also have this privilege. It was powerful, and I wanted to share some of their experiences with you.

Student recalls how her white coat derailed a bad situation

She had just left the Harrison Commons about 1:30 a.m., headed home down Riverwatch Parkway, probably to study even more for a big test that next morning. A police officer pulled her over and told her that a missing car fit the description of the one she was driving. She offered proof of registration that this was her car, but the officer didn’t seem to like what she said, how she said it, or maybe both. He told her to step out of her car and searched it, reminding her that if she did not cooperate it would be a long night. She had recently picked up her laundry, and when she popped her trunk, he saw a newly laundered white coat and asked her about it. She told him she was a medical student at MCG, and in that instant his demeanor changed, she says. He assured her the car she was driving was not the one missing. “He looked at me completely differently,” she said. This was probably the hardest thing to hear our student say; she thinks that iconic white coat saved her life that night.

Students report racial bias on our campus, and their commitment to standing against it

He was in his first week of medical school and was checking out Augusta Mall. When leaving, he held the door for a man, who would follow him, not to thank him, but to ask him if he were here legally and to assure him that he would call the police if he could not prove he was. One of the things that struck our student in the immediate aftermath, is that he could not think of a single person in medicine who could relate to this experience, in fact he did not have a Latino mentor until he got to MCG. His role as a Latino medical student is one of privilege, our student shares, but it carries with it this sense of isolation. He welcomed the opportunity to talk with MCG leaders because he believes they are the exact audience that can help ensure diversity and erode that sense of isolation. He is correct. These next experiences hit even closer to home. Another student shares two very specific examples of bias from some of our caregivers toward our patients. One caregiver was surprised by her clear reaction to his comments and assured her, she was not ‘one of them.’ “He could not have been further from the truth; I stand with those who cannot speak up for themselves and will advocate for the marginalized and oppressed because they deserve their voices to be heard,” she said. “But who will stand for us as minority medical students, future residents and future faculty in medicine?”

MCG is working to strengthen its embrace of diversity

We will, I say to her and to our other students, and I also say thank you again to our students for being strong enough to stand before the leaders of their medical school and share what they know because we need to know. “How is it that based on what you have heard today … that students and residents and faculty report extremely similar experiences of both covert and overt discrimination and, again, it’s the year 2020,” another student leader shared. “How are we experiencing these things still?” Poignant questions deserving answers. It was only 1967 when MCG became desegregated, when our first black students, Dr. Frank Rumph and Dr. John T. Harper Sr., came to us. Those were brave individuals as well and I say to them and to you that you are being heard and together we can make MCG and medicine better. Please stay tuned.

Concerted focus means we can do anything

Midweek this week, the international broadcaster Voice of America’ Russian Service (TV) was doing an interview with Dr. Babak Baban, an immunologist in the Dental College of Georgia who is a great friend of MCG with a joint appointment in our Departments of Surgery and Neurology. Dr. Baban was being interviewed with his longtime collaborator Dr. Jack Yu, chief of pediatric plastic surgery, physician-scientist and pretty much a mathematical wiz. They were talking with Voice of America about their early evidence that cannabidiol, or CBD, interferes with the lung destruction that results in so much sickness and death with COVID-19. You can imagine that work is getting a lot well-deserved worldwide attention.  Senior video producer Tim Johnson was shooting some video to go with the Skype interview and kept trying to direct Drs. Baban and Yu on when and where to walk and when to draw some appropriate illustrations on a huge whiteboard. Part of what I love about MCG and so many people here, is that whenever these two were in close proximity they couldn’t help but get immersed in an intense conversation about their work, no matter what else was happening. It shows, yet again, the level of commitment and passion of the many fine individuals who are here. And it reinforces for me that when we put our collective minds to it, we really can do anything.

Dr. Bleakley Chandler, longtime pathology chair, passes

Finally today we note the passing of Dr. Arthur Bleakley Chandler, a 1948 honors graduate of our medical school who joined the MCG faculty in 1953 and served for 47 years, including 25 years as chair of the Department of Pathology. His research focus was cardiovascular disease and included development of the Chandler loop still used today to study clots. He received the Medical Association of Georgia’s Hardman Cup in 2000 for his contributions to the science of medicine and our Outstanding Faculty Award in 1999. We thank Dr. Chandler again for his steadfast commitment to MCG and to medicine and send our best thoughts to his family and friends.

Please continue to take good care out there.

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