Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Peach State Health Plan provides $5.2 million gift to support 3+

This week it was my honor to travel to Atlanta with AU President Brooks Keel and Chief of Staff Russell Keen to shake hands with our new partner in our innovative 3+ curriculum, the Peach State Health Plan. Atlanta is the headquarters for Peach State Health Plan, a care management organization and subsidiary of Centene Corporation. Centene provides health care services to Georgians on Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids. In October of last year, Peach State Health Plan launched its Office of Rural Health and Strategic Initiatives with just this kind of partnership in mind. This week Wade Rakes, CEO of Peach State Health Plan, presented a $5.2 million gift to MCG to help fund the MCG 3+ Program. As Dr. Keel said: “We are grateful for Peach State Health Plan and their shared vision for a healthier Georgia.” Please let me also thank our new partners for their commitment to Georgia and for their trust that Georgia’s public medical school will invest their dollars wisely to help with our common goal of building a better, healthier state.

Generous grant will help address Georgia’s significant physician shortage

As we have discussed, this most significant revamping of the MCG curriculum in our storied history, is a huge initiative that directly addresses our large state’s tremendous need for physicians. For medical students who know they want to practice primary care and help shore up medicine’s frontline, it enables them to finish medical school in three years. They can then move into a residency in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN, general surgery, psychiatry or emergency medicine. For our students focused on other pursuits, they can still finish their core work in three years and have that fourth year to do more focused clinical or research work in that area or even earn a dual degree. I believe this is one of those win-wins that provides flexibility and focus at the same time. Thank you so much again Peach State Health Plan and Centene. Together we can do even more good. 

Match Day set for noon, March 19 at SRP Park, North Augusta

Nobody does medical education better than all of you who are MCG. A couple of Fridays from now there will be more objective evidence of that at the annual Match Day, set for noon, March 19. Match Day is the day that medical students around the country find out where they will be pursuing the next step of their medical education. Like everything else, COVID has put its mark on Match for the second year running. Unlike the usual boisterous event in Augusta, where our students share where they will be going in person and in real time with their friends and family, this will be a student-only event at SRP Park, home of baseball’s Augusta GreenJackets, just across the river in North Augusta. Our seniors in Athens are having a separate virtual event that will be livestreamed here. One thing that has not changed is the incredible quality of our students here and there who consistently match at top programs in their chosen specialty. While I regret that our students won’t have the same experience as their predecessors, I know they will continue to make us proud. We also will be livestreaming the Augusta event and sharing just how well our students matched afterward on the MCG Facebook page and in the next Dean’s Diary.

White Coat ceremony is set for 11 a.m. tomorrow at SRP Park

Tomorrow at 11 a.m. our freshmen students will gather at SRP Park for the annual White Coat ceremony. This is both a delayed and different event this year. We talked earlier about how we had delayed White Coat with the hope that it could be the really cool event it usually is, where our newest students’ favorite educators help them put on their white coats in front of family and friends, and we take an awesome class shot that same day. Unfortunately, both those still cannot happen, so students at our main campus here will gather and put on their own white coats. Our freshmen at the Athens campus opted for a virtual event this past December. Please let me add here that either way, this symbolic event is a big deal as future physicians officially take up this iconic sign of their chosen profession. This will be livestreamed as well. I also wanted to let you know that we are planning on a more true-to-form Hooding for the Class of 2021 at 2 p.m. Thursday, May 13 at the James Brown Arena on 7th Street in Augusta. I hope this will happen for our seniors.

MCG Alumni Association program provides stethoscopes to students

Stethoscopes are another iconic symbol of medicine and health care. As we continue the essential cycle of bringing the next generation of physicians to MCG, our Alumni Association is working hard to make sure every member of the Class of 2025, who will be with us before we know it, starts out with the gift of a stethoscope bearing MCG’s beautiful seal. Scott Henson, AVP for alumni engagement, tells us donations from you, our alumni, faculty and friends, enabled the Alumni Association to provide a stethoscope for every member of the Class of 2024. Have I mentioned lately that with 240 students our class size is the 10th largest in the nation? And, we will be growing by 20 more students for this next class – 10 more in Augusta and 10 more in Athens – so we definitely need everyone’s help in getting a stethoscope for this largest ever class of 260 students. The stethoscopes cost $250 each and you can order them here. Scott, who is a die-hard MCG advocate, already purchased four for our students himself. Many of our alumni who purchased stethoscopes last time included an encouraging note to our students, which was another incredible bonus for them.  I appreciate everything each of you do for our students, and hope you will also support them in this way if you can. Philanthropy means promoting the welfare of others, and just like the generous Peach State Health Plan gift, it enables excellence.  

Dr. Nancy Havas is the new associate dean for learner affairs

Awesome educators who have a genuine love for what they do and for our students’ success are key ingredients of MCG’s secret excellence sauce. I am glad to share that in April another excellent academic leader will join us. Dr. Nancy Havas, a family medicine physician who is associate dean for student services at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University in Miami, has been named associate dean for learner affairs. At MCG, she will help support our very large class as well as 540 residents, helping oversee their career and academic advising. She will plan, hopefully soon-back-to-normal, major events like Hooding and White Coat, ensure access to support services like student health and coordinate community based service learning, which is basically volunteer work by our students that will be expanding with our new curriculum. Dr. Havas previously served as associate dean for student affairs at the Medical College of Wisconsin, where her work included helping develop and open two regional campuses with three-year curriculums that serve rural communities. She sounds like a perfect fit. Welcome Dr. Havas.

Dr. Wanling Xuan receives $1.6 million NIH grant to explore treatment for age-related muscle loss

Excellence also results from diligence. Dr. Wanling Xuan came to us from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2018 when she was a postdoc with Dr. Muhammad Ashraf, who was joining the faculty at the Vascular Biology Center as a professor. In their studies of muscle wasting disease, Dr. Xuan could not help but also be struck by the muscle loss that affects most of us with age called sarcopenia. This loss can contribute to falls, hospitalizations, even early death and she wanted to do something about it. Dr. Xuan was named an assistant research scientist in the VBC last year. I am pleased to share she also was recently awarded a $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to further explore a potential therapy she is developing for sarcopenia. It involves using a small manmade molecule to coax induced pluripotent stem cells to become muscle progenitor cells, which can make muscle cells, as well as little carrying cases called extracellular vesicles that deliver supportive cargo to muscle like microRNAs that aid muscle repair and regeneration. A fascinating story you will hear more about soon and another example of the success your diligence delivers. Congratulations Dr. Xuan.

Stronger because of COVID is focus of March 16 Patient and Family Centered Care Conference

Finally today, we acknowledge that it was a long year ago that COVID started really impacting our lives. The first case in the United States was reported Jan. 19, 2020, Governor Kemp announced March 2, 2020 the first cases of COVID-19 in Georgia, and we announced the first presumptive cases of COVID in Augusta mid- March. March 2020 would also begin your extraordinary efforts to help, with innovative changes with the curriculum for our medical students, by making testing and vaccination easily available, by making exceptional care available, and by rightly standing up as leaders in this pandemic. In keeping with that, Julie Moretz, AVP for Patient and Family Centered Care, shares that her group is holding a conference week after next aptly titled: We are STRONGER because of COVID. It may not always feel like it, but we really are because of your perseverance and humanity. At this conference, set for 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 16, you will hear from one of our patients who survived COVID twice. You will hear from our brave frontline providers and staff in this pandemic and how, while the pandemic itself has put unnatural distance between us, it cannot separate us from our privileged bottom line of caring for patients and their families. I know you all are busy, but I encourage you to take this time and this conference to reflect on why what you do and how you do it matter so much. Thank you.

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

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