Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

COVID-19 has shed more light on the need for physicians, health care

Augusta’s temperatures have dropped to some very pleasant 70s and the holidays will be here before you know it. I love this time of year here. It’s invigorating in so many ways with near perfect weather and a new academic year well underway. But there is no doubt that this year is different with the pandemic still ever present on our minds. One of the many effects of the pandemic has been to heighten the awareness of the importance of ready access to great health care. It seems like almost every other day I am getting called by someone from the community with an urgent medical need, and our physicians are always accommodating and sacrificial of their time for patients, and the patients are always satisfied and thankful for the care. Please let me say to each of you again how proud I am of you for your contributions to the 192-year-old legacy of MCG and to its boundless future.

MCG will increase its class size to 260 for the Class of 2025

I am pleased to share with you that we are again growing our already large class size to help put more physician boots on the ground. Effective with the Class of 2025, which our tireless Admissions Office is recruiting right now, we will have 10 more students at our home base here in Augusta and 10 more students at our Athens campus as well, increases that will put our class size at 260 students. This is the first expansion of our Augusta campus since 2006. About this time in 2018 , we started talking again in earnest about class expansion. As you know, 10 more students started at the now decade-old AU/UGA Partnership campus in Athens this past August. That brought our current class size to 240, with 50 students per class in Athens and 190 here in Augusta. Over the next five years, we hope to increase the number of students in Augusta by 10 per year to reach a total MCG class size of 300.

Public medical schools like MCG are shouldering much of the class growth

To give that number a little perspective, the largest allopathic medical school in our nation, Indiana University School of Medicine, currently has 365 new admissions per class. Indiana is the 17th largest state by population, and Georgia is consistently among the top 10 states in both population and population growth. Vice Dean for Academic Affairs Dr. Doug Miller says the nation’s 85 public medical schools are rightly shouldering most of the class growth needed to improve the health care workforce of their home states and ultimately the nation. Not only are we expanding the size of our class, but we have embarked upon the most innovative curriculum change in the history of MCG and arguably the most innovative in the U.S. Let me add my sincere thanks to you our staff and medical educators and to the leadership of AU, the University System of Georgia and the state of Georgia for enabling MCG to do its part. More great days are ahead.

MCG student Bria Carrithers selected for American Society of Hematology Minority Medical Student Award Program

Whatever the number, our students are an inspiration and our reason for being. Students like Bria Carrithers, a fourth-year student from Albany, Georgia. Bria is finishing up her clinical work at our oldest regional campus, the Southwest Campus, based in her hometown. Bria plans on pursuing a career in hematology/oncology with a goal of treating sickle cell patients in her own comprehensive sickle cell center in her own hometown. Her inspiration has included the likes of our also inspiring Dr. Betty Pace, director of our Pediatric Comprehensive Sickle Cell Program. Now Bria is one of 24 medical students in the nation selected by the American Society of Hematology to participate in the society’s 2020 Minority Medical Student Award Program, which encourages underrepresented in medicine students to pursue careers in hematology by enabling them to work alongside (more) great role models. In Bria’s case, she is working — virtually as is the new norm — with Drs. Sophie Lanzkron and Lydia Pecker, hematologists at Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center in Baltimore, over the course of her last year of medical school. Bria tells us that she has known since she was seven-years-old that she wanted to be a doctor, even though at that age she had never seen a doctor who was a person of color. See what I mean by inspirational. Congratulations Bria and thank you for choosing MCG to help you make your childhood dreams come true.

Mentor, sickle cell expert Dr. Betty Pace has made great strides in promoting diversity

I want to add here that Dr. Pace was honored in 2017 by the American Society of Hematology with its inaugural award for leadership in promoting diversity. Her research and clinical work alone are inspirational, but she has also committed tremendous time to mentoring, from her early days of attracting minority high school and undergraduate students to biomedical research; to the nationally acclaimed PRIDE program she established to mentor minority junior faculty members, which continues today and, in fact, starts again here next week; to serving as a mentor for the ASH program that Bria is now a part of. I also want to add that Dr. Pace holds the Francis J. Tedesco Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, which is another cool story. This now 20-year-old chair was established at the MCG Foundation to honor our former president at his retirement. Dr. Tedesco is a gastroenterologist by training but he and his wife Luann also gave their hearts to pediatric hematology/oncology and to children’s health care when Jennifer, their only child, was diagnosed with childhood cancer at age 8, and they chose to have her treated here at our Children’s Hospital of Georgia. In fact, Dr. Tedesco was a tremendous force behind the children’s hospital that stands today and opened in 1998. Just this handful of individuals I have mentioned today, provide a snapshot of the quality and impact of the people who are MCG and reason enough for me to call MCG home. But amazingly, there are always more great people and accomplishments.

Surgery residents Drs. Andy Harner and Haley Daigle take top awards in Southeast robotics competition

Like these. Dr. Steve Holsten, interim chair of the Department of Surgery, proudly mentioned at the recent MCG Cabinet meeting that two of our general surgery residents had definitely beaten out some tough competition from across the Southeast at a recent robotics surgery course. The Atlanta Intuitive Surgical Lab offers a course developed by Dr. John Porterfield, director of the General Surgery Residency Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in collaboration with Intuitive (makers of the robotics equipment) to ensure general surgery residents get great robotics training. Thanks to 2011 MCG classmates Drs. Renee Hilton and Aaron Bolduc, experts in minimally invasive and bariatric surgery here, our general surgery residents do get terrific robotics training. That showed when Dr. Andy Harner, fourth-year resident, and Dr. Haley Daigle, fifth-year resident, nailed the competition at a robotics Olympics following the Atlanta course on robotic hernia repair. Dr. Harner took first place and Dr. Daigle took second. Great going guys. It was a neat footnote that Dr. Porterfield later reached out to Drs. Bolduc and Hilton to reaffirm how well our general surgery residents are trained. Robotics offers many clear benefits for some surgical procedures, like a three dimensional view of where you are operating and incredible precision and we definitely want our surgery residents to be ready to take this on. Good job all.

Emily Baumann, local philanthropist, makes additional $50,000 gift to help children get needed psychotherapy

And like Emily Baumann. This retired music therapist has struck some powerful chords here. She has always understood the importance of mental health, and a conversation with our psychiatry chair Dr. Vaughn McCall a few years back helped her also appreciate the reality that children who need mental health treatment often are caught in limbo. Like so many specialists, there is a shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists while the need for them is likely unprecedented. Many insurance plans won’t pay for psychotherapy for children, and our child and adolescent psychiatry fellows need the experience of working with these children, but in Georgia Medicaid won’t pay for treatment by trainees. So Ms. Baumann started a fund to help ensure that children get the help they need and that our fellows get essential experience.  She just made an additional $50,000 gift to her fund to establish an endowment that will enable this win-win in perpetuity. Thank you again Ms. Baumann. Your generosity helps ensure a better present and future for children.

Office of Medical Historian in Residence closing this month

We wanted to let you know that we have made the difficult decision to close the Office of the Medical Historian in Residence on Oct. 15. You all know that we lost our historian, the great Dr. Lois Ellison, the true matriarch of MCG, in April of last year. Sarah Braswell, who has worked here for 35 years including 26 years with Dr. Ellison and 20 of those years as the historical research coordinator, is retiring this month. You know that history is important to me and to our 192-year-old medical school, so as we make decisions on how best to move forward, please call the dean’s office at 706-721-2231 with any questions you may have about our history (and our future).

Evans ranked the top place to live

Lastly today, we got more good news this past week for recruiting when Evans was ranked the top place to live in America by Money magazine. I think we all appreciate the Augusta area, but the rest of the world now does — and I have had a good time this week “rubbing” it in to my colleagues from Southern California and the Northeast how good the life is here.

Please continue to take good care out there and “mask up”.

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