Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Black church leaders in our community take a stand against COVID

These continue to be unprecedented times, and you continue to provide unprecedented support. Last week I had the privilege of attending a gathering at Good Shepherd Baptist Church, founded in 1940 out of the Neighborhood Union Club 2, which had at its heart concern for the sick and needy. This church, once led by the late pioneer Rev. Essie M. McIntyre, was the place where about a dozen Black ministers from our community publicly received the COVID-19 vaccine. As Pastor Karlton Howard of Noah’s Ark Missionary Baptist Church in Keysville told Tom Corwin with The Augusta Chronicle: “As a community, from a historical standpoint, there is a lot of apprehension based on past historical events. But we are overcoming that, being able to start trusting the science as opposed to those emotional issues from the past. That’s one of the reasons we as pastors pulled together with AU for that purpose.” I have called the COVID vaccine one of the greatest medical triumphs of all time, and if this vaccine against a virus that has cost and continues to cost so many so much, can also help heal these old, deep wounds, that multiplies its value immeasurably.

Leaders get vaccinated, urge the community to do the same

The work that led to the Jan. 25 event, which kicked off our Health System’s public vaccination initiative, was possible particularly because of the leadership of Dr. Martha Tingen and Dr. Samantha Sojourner, as well as Dr. Phillip Coule and Dr. Joshua Wyche. The courage and leadership of ministers like Rev. Howard, who also is president of the 10th District of the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia, and Rev. Clarence Moore, who is only the second pastor to lead Good Shepherd Baptist Church, as well as the Rev. Eugene Beverly, pastor of Second McCannan Missionary Baptist Church in Sardis, was admirable. Dr. Stephen Goggans, an MCG graduate and director of the East Central Georgia Health District, who helped establish our Athens campus more than a decade ago, was another standout in this frontline effort to protect our community, including ensuring that those most impacted by this virus have good resources available to them. Additional church-based events are in the works. Most of you are aware of and understand the wariness among Blacks about the medical establishment because of atrocities like the Tuskegee Institute study that started in the 1930s. Again, I hope that these historic days will help us build confidence in each other and hope for our future, and I thank again each of you for helping make progress happen.

MCG students in Athens, Augusta and across Georgia help vaccinate the public

When I think of MCG’s future, I think first of our students. And they too continue to be frontline in combating COVID. At the AU/UGA Medical Partnership campus in Athens, which Dr. Goggans helped start, our students are working with the Clarke County Board of Health to vaccinate the public. Soon they will help vaccinate the underserved through the Medical Partnership Mobile Clinic/Athens Free Clinic, which already has made testing more readily available. First-year student Max Ribot said he feels empowered and privileged by the opportunities. Our students based here, and at our Southwest, Southeast and Northwest Georgia campuses, have clocked 841 volunteer hours working at vaccine distribution sites, through the Georgia Department of Public Health’s Medical Reserve Corps and locally at AU Medical Center, and at pop-up sites like ones at Christ Community Health Services and Department of Public Health drive-up sites.

Statewide vaccination education effort led by MCG students should start next month

Dr. Doug Miller, vice dean for academic affairs, shares that in March we hope to launch a statewide vaccination education program that will send hundreds of our vaccinated students from campuses to safely deliver educational material to people in rural and underserved communities who may be vaccine hesitant. Armed with tablets, WiFi bandwidth amplifiers and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) tracking devices, students also will reach out to communities through their churches, community centers and schools to provide science-based evidence about why/how vaccines protect against COVID-19 and ensure them that the vaccines are safe. Those who want to get vaccinated will be directed to the nearest location that can make that happen. In addition to our great students and amazing statewide campus network, our partner for this important initiative is Sharecare, a nearly decade-old digital health company that strives to make health care work better.

Students publish paper on how COVID impacted their education; how pandemic medicine elective helped

Our students also are sharing with the medical education community what happened when COVID changed their academic lives by eliminating or at least severely restricting patient interaction. Students Joseph Antony Elengickal, Amanda M. Delgado, Shefali Priya Jain, Elena Rae Diller, Catherine E. Valli, Kesar K. Dhillon, Hee K. Lee and Rohitha Baskar along with our infectious disease specialist and educator Dr. Rodger MacArthur, have published a study in the journal Medical Science Educator. It highlights the development of the Pandemic Medicine Elective, which provided a safe, highly relevant learning alternative that was also able to provide community service as a huge plus. The course, which we first told you about in March, early in the pandemic, has been a hit and success across our home base and statewide regional campus network. I want to thank Dr. Miller again for his deft leadership in these unprecedented times, and our students for always stepping up. Kudos to Dr. MacArthur as well for being such a patient (both the adjective and noun apply here) educator and articulate source of information for the media about COVID.

Vaccine hesitancy will be addressed Feb. 12 by 100 Black Men of Augusta in partnership with MCG, AU

Our Department of Population Health Sciences and the Institute of Public and Preventive Health are partnering with 100 Black Men of Augusta for a community town hall next week about myths, facts and issues surrounding vaccine hesitancy with a special emphasis on the concerns of the Black and Brown communities. It will be held noon to 1:30 p.m. next Friday via Zoom and 100 Black Men of Augusta’s Facebook Live. You can register here. The expert panel includes the Rev. Tommie L. Benjamin, pastor of Augusta’s Trinity CME Church; Dr. Sharica Brookins, a graduate of Meharry Medical College in Nashville and founder of Remote Renal Care; Dr. Coule, MCG graduate and CMO of our Health System; the Rev. Dr. Charles E. Goodman Jr., senior pastor of Augusta’s Historic Tabernacle Baptist Church; Dr. Justin Moore, epidemiologist here and a passionate prevention and community advocate everywhere; and Dr. Jose Vazquez, chief of our Division of Infectious Diseases, who has been frontline as well in combating COVID. I also will be privileged to lend my insight.

Augusta National, Community Foundation provide substantial vaccination support

This week we also learned that the Augusta National Golf Club is providing another substantial boost to vaccinating our community. The home of the Masters Golf Tournament is providing the former Stein Mart building on Washington Road as a central vaccination site for the Health System. The Augusta National also is providing a $1 million donation and the Community Foundation for the Central Savannah River Area is providing $1 million to support vaccine efforts. Tom Corwin reports in The Augusta Chronicle that the new effort will include pop-up clinics in underserved areas of Augusta and enable the East Central Georgia Health District, which serves our community, to have a second mobile clinic. The Augusta National earlier lent substantial support to novel coronavirus testing. In announcing the new support, Chairman Fred Ridley said: “Helping expand access to COVID-19 vaccinations is another meaningful way to do more for our neighbors in the Augusta community that has supported the Masters Tournament for more than 80 years.” Thank you Augusta National and Community Foundation.

First-ever virtual interview season, is real success for MCG Admissions

Back to our students, Academic Affairs and agility, I also am pleased to share that our Admissions Office, under the leadership of MCG graduate Dr. Kelli Braun, just completed their first-ever virtual interview season. Like many medical schools this year, we had a record number of applicants, likely because of the pandemic-driven hyperfocus on science, disease and health care, and 591 individuals were interviewed. Altogether the Admissions Office and Admissions Committee, completed 3,546 virtual interviews over 39 days (sounds like a mega-triathlon). Jenny Crouch, director of Admissions and Recruitment Operations, shared that one of the benefits of this virtual approach was it eased participation by our regional campus faculty (which is particularly important since we are looking to identify more students interested in primary care and/or rural health care) as well as Athens student ambassadors in virtual tours and Q&A sessions for the first time. All told, 53 faculty, staff and students conducted multiple mini-interviews and served as tour guides and ambassadors, Jenny tells us. My thanks to everyone. Nothing we do here is any more important than the work of our Admissions Committee and Office.

Match Day is set for March 19, student-only event will be held at SRP Park

Match Day, where our students learn where they will be doing their residency training, has been set for noon ET March 19. COVID is still impacting Match Day, so this year will we have a student-only event at SRP Park just across the Savannah River in North Augusta. Like so many things, we hope that by next year we can welcome family and all educators back to this great celebration. The good news is that, per their usual, our students already have started matching well. Seniors pursuing urology and ophthalmology found out where they’ll head for residency earlier this week. 

MCG graduates Drs. Alva Faulkner, Joseph Snitzer, Alva Mayes pass

Today we close with another reminder of the incredible impact our students have as they go out into the world. Dr. Joseph Snitzer III, was a native of Baltimore, and served as a first lieutenant and transoceanic navigator in the Air Force in the Korean War. He came to us in 1959, and also completed a pediatric internship with us before going to Emory University to complete his residency. He would become an advocate for children before the state legislature and had a 28-year career at the former Egleston Children’s Hospital, including developing the hospitalist service there. He would become chief of general pediatrics and president of Egleston’s medical staff. He was an honored educator and physician leader whose awards include the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics Leila D. Denmark Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. Dr. Denmark was another famed MCG graduate and children’s advocate. We also recognize today the famed Dr. Alva Faulkner, a native of Waynesboro, a 1945 MCG graduate who practiced obstetrics and gynecology in our community from 1951-2007. She was a clinical assistant professor in our Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a constant presence at alumni events like Freshman Brunch and Alumni Weekend, Scott Henson, AVP for Alumni Engagement, tells us. Just yesterday we also learned of the passing of Dr. Alva Mayes, a 1956 MCG graduate and pediatrician in Macon for nearly 60 years. Dr. Mayes also was past president of the Medical Association of Georgia and of our Alumni Association and past chair of the MCG Foundation. Dr. Mayes was an associate clinical professor of pediatrics and a faculty preceptor for the Department of Community Medicine at the Mercer University School of Medicine, based in Macon. He was a former president of the Bibb County Medical Society and was honored with its Physician of the Year Award and Distinguished Service Award as well as the MAG’s Distinguished Service Award. Our thoughts are with the family and many friends of these three individuals who lived such long, productive lives.

Please continue to take good care out there, wear a mask and get vaccinated.

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