May 14, 2021

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Members of MCG Class of 2021 officially become physicians

Diane and I are the proud parents of four children. Lisa, our oldest, is an accountant in New Orleans; Sara, our youngest, is an artist, who just completed her undergraduate degree at UGA, and is headed off to get her master’s at The Ohio State University. Our second and third children, Daniel and Matthew, both decided to become physicians. Daniel graduates next week from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville, then is headed to the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine for his internal medicine residency with a career in hematology/oncology as his ultimate goal. Matthew, a graduate of the UAB School of Medicine, already is in his orthopaedic surgery residency at UAB, and Matthew’s wife, who we also consider our daughter, Muhan Hu, is graduating from UAB’s medical school next week and will continue there as an OB/GYN resident. Matthew was overjoyed that our 2021 graduate Dr. Pearce Lane, who was a “Hairy Dawg,” while an undergrad at UGA, also matched in orthopaedics at UAB. Being proud parents is one of the toughest and best jobs possible. It was incredible to see that “best” part, evident on even the masked faces of parents gathered yesterday as their children became physicians and MCG’s 185th graduating class.

Dr. Bria Peacock, Class of 2021, receives U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Excellence in Public Health Award 

While everyone could not be at our annual Hooding Ceremony because of the ongoing pandemic, it was so great to see those who could be there for our amazing Class of 2021. The fact that it was MCG’s 185th class was another reminder of the significant history MCG, its graduates, faculty and staff. The students gathered yesterday were the promise of more to come. Students like Bria Peacock. Like 95% of our students, the brand new “Dr.” Peacock is a Georgian, with deep family ties in Cordele. As a third-year, Dr. Peacock was honored by the Association of American Medical Colleges with a Herbert W. Nickens Medical Student Scholarship, one of five given each year, for rising third- years who demonstrate leadership in eliminating disparities in medical education and in directly addressing the needs of minorities. Dr. Peacock, who is headed to an OB/GYN residency at the University of California San Francisco, has already performed Pap smears and given HPV vaccinations in Peru, where cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women. Closer to home, she started a program to address HIV infection and teen pregnancy rates, that includes a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-based curriculum that works to help young Black females strengthen their ability to take excellent care of themselves. “The goal is for the girls to know self-love, self-respect, self-care and self-responsibility,” Dr. Peacock said of the program. She has already worked on projects to reduce cardiovascular risk in those most at risk. Like you, and in the great tradition of MCG, she has worked hard to ensure the best for today and better ways for tomorrow. Who can imagine what she will do next. But for what she already has done, she was honored yesterday again, this time with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Excellence in Public Health Award. I could not be more proud.

Dr. Zola Francis was picked by her classmates as the Physician’s Physician

Students like the brand new Dr. Zola Francis, who was born in New York, raised in Fort Lauderdale and became a Georgia Tech undergraduate and our first Harper-Rumph Scholar in honor of MCG’s first two Black graduates, Drs. Frank M. Rumph and John T. Harper. Dr. Francis is now the recipient of the coveted Physician’s Physician Award from her classmates, as one who demonstrates the greatest aptitude for and devotion to our profession. Most recently Dr. Francis, who is headed to a combined, five-year internal medicine and psychiatry residency at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, led a fundraiser to improve access to technology for Richmond County Public School students who were learning from home because of the pandemic. She partnered with RISE Augusta, whose focus is helping children succeed, to raise funds to purchase 123 laptops. Good partners are essential in our personal and professional lives and Dr. Francis also worked with our AOA Honor Medical Society and Gold Humanism Honor Society to raise the funds that made this possible. Home grown computer and telecom experts at IntelliSystems also stepped in to help and in two weeks, the goal was met. No wonder her classmates picked Dr. Francis, an individual who sees a need and doesn’t wait for somebody else to meet it, as the individual they would most likely seek as a personal physician. Thank you Dr. Francis. You are going to be one busy, productive physician.

Dr. John Fisher, much-honored educator, was this year’s Hooding Speaker

Dr. John Fremont Fisher, AKA, “The Fish Man,” an infectious disease physician and one our most honored educators, graduated from medical school just a few years before Drs. Francis and Peacock: In 1969 from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond (now Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine). Dr. Fisher came to us in 1977 right after his fellowship training and boy are we glad he stayed. Class of 2021 President Dr. Susan Brands (doesn’t that sound good), who is staying with us to do her emergency medicine training, tells us: “As a class, we always refer to ourselves as ‘Fisher-trained docs’ as a point of pride. We’re so grateful to have been able to learn from him, and there’s no one else we’d rather hear from one last time!” The Class of 2021’s Hooding speaker got off to his own roaring start, serving as president of his freshman medical school class, and honored with the William Harrison Higgins Award as the medical resident “who best typifies the warm personality, the ability to inspire confidence and unwavering dedication to internal medicine…..” His very first honor as a medical educator likely was during his fellowship when those seniors picked him as the subspecialty fellow who had contributed most to their medical education.

Dr. Fisher challenges students to “dig deep,” “go to the mat,” and still have fun

Dr. Fisher has sustained that unwavering dedication to our students, receiving 50 education awards over the years from them alone, including the Exemplary Teaching Award and Educator of the Year Award in 2019 from the Class of 2021. And there have been other teaching honors, like the 2005 Clinical Teacher Award from the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Yesterday, Dr. Fisher shared more of his invaluable insight with our students. Like how years ago he used to daydream about being a doctor and practice writing his name followed by MD, and how he asks our students to give that a try when he first meets them. He reminded them that being a doctor includes contributing something that is “uniquely you” to the sick, the suffering and even the “worried well.” He shared how they will have to “dig deep” to be great doctors, how one night he found an empty room where he cried from stress and weariness, and how head nurse Pauline Hymenn found and reassured him that things would be okay, and she was correct. How you have to “go to the mat” for your patients, maybe especially the tough ones, including the hostile, intoxicated man with a bad cough and teeth. That staying curious will help you solve fascinating clinical puzzles and avoid burnout. To also have fun with your profession, and with the medical students you may one day be privileged to teach. To take time for yourself and your family. To become the next “Intern of the year” by providing exceptional care, and by recognizing the nurses, ward clerks, environmental staff and others who help you do it. Dr. Fisher is definitely an ingredient in the “secret sauce” that enables MCG to excel in educating the next generation. Thank you Dr. Fisher.

Athens campus celebrates Hooding at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow

I wanted to also share that our seniors at the Athens campus, the AU/UGA Medical Partnership, which hopefully most of you know is our now 11-year old, second four-year campus in partnership with UGA, this year will celebrate in a separate Hooding Ceremony tomorrow in Athens. One of my many wishes this year is that next year everyone who wants to be at Hooding can be there and that includes all our seniors being together for this momentous occasion. Their Hooding speaker is Dr. Scott Richardson, campus associate dean for medical education and director of Academic Success Programs. Dr. Richardson has a devoted fan club up that way, comprised of students from across all four years, where he works diligently to help them achieve personal and professional development. I hope you guys have a great day and know you will have a great future.

Dr. Lela Ward named program director for internal medicine residency program at St. Mary’s in Athens

Speaking of our Athens campus, I also am pleased to share that Dr. Lela Ward is the new program director for the affiliated internal medicine residency program at St. Mary’s Hospital. Dr. Ward is an internist and hospitalist who has been a core faculty member for the residency program since it started in 2015. She founded the mentoring program for the residents. Dr. Ward is a graduate of both UGA and MCG (2011) who grew up in beautiful Madison, Georgia. Thank you for taking on this important role Dr. Ward, particularly as we strive to expand primary care training opportunities in our state that will encourage more students to stay in Georgia to practice and better enable MCG and our state address the significant physician shortage.

State budget includes new formula funding, matching funds for 3+ scholarships

We got great news on the front of addressing the physician shortage this week when Gov. Kemp signed the 2022 state budget, which includes an increase in the formula funding — which is fundamentally how much state support we receive per student, per credit hour— for medical, dental and veterinary medicine education in the University System of Georgia. We won’t know exactly how many additional dollars will be directed to MCG for probably a couple of weeks. But we already know that educating medical students, as well as dental and veterinary medicine students, is disproportionately expensive and the state and USG are working to help us and our colleagues in the Dental College of Georgia and the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine address that. Also, in early March, we talked about the generosity of the Peach State Health Plan, a care management organization and subsidiary of Centene Corporation, to provide $5.2 million for scholarship support of our students who chose the primary care pathway of our innovative 3+ curriculum. Also included in the finalized state budget are funds to match that generous gift, which makes $10.4 million available to establish an endowment that will help sustain this great initiative to provide more primary care physicians for Georgia. Again, the timing for these new dollars could not be better as we work in so many different directions to grow for the good health of our state, including increasing our class size from the current 190 students per class in Augusta and 50 in Athens to 200 students per class here and 60 in Athens starting in our next academic year. It’s exciting how all the important pieces are coming together to make this critical growth happen. I want to thank the Georgia Legislature, the USG, Gov. Kemp, our local legislative delegation, which includes Rep. Mark Newton, a 1988 MCG graduate whose son David graduated yesterday, and each of you for your significant effort. Please let me individually thank Rep. Larry J. “Butch” Parrish, a native of Swainsboro and graduate of the UGA College of Pharmacy; Rep. Jon Burns, who lives on the family farm in Effingham County; Dr. Dean Burke, a 1981 MCG graduate from Bainbridge; Rep. Terry England, a lifelong farmer representing Auburn in North Georgia; Rep. David Ralston, a native of Ellijay; and Sen. Blake Tillery, of Vidalia who chairs the Appropriations Committee and whose wife, Dr. Ashlee Nicole Sharer, is a 2017 MCG graduate; for strongly advocating on behalf of these efforts.

Dr. Paul G. McDonough, famed reproductive endocrinologist, passes at age 91

Finally today we note the passing of the legend Dr. Paul G. McDonough. This often-honored physician-scientist came to us in 1964 as a fellow in reproductive endocrinology and genetics and never left. He would start our Section of Reproductive Endocrinology, Infertility and Genetics in 1966 and direct it for 30 years, direct the Human Genetics Institute for a decade starting in 1983, become professor emeritus in 1996, then in 2017, during my relatively recent tenure as dean, become clinical professor so he could still contribute to his field, its future and to MCG. His quiet countenance was never hard to find. He has chaired the National Institutes of Health Reproductive Medicine Network, served as a longtime member of the Executive Committee of the International Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, he was on the Breast Cancer Gene Susceptibility Committee of the Human Genome Task Force, chaired by Dr. Francis Collins, who is now director of the NIH, and served on the FDA Advisory Committee on Fertility and Maternal Health Drugs. He was President of the Society of Reproductive Endocrinologists, the American Fertility Society and the North American Society of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology. He helped establish the genetic basis of gonadal dysgenesis and many related disorders of puberty, sexual dysfunction in development, including sexual differentiation, and recurrent pregnancy loss. He was instrumental in Y chromosome mapping and in the first prenatal and molecular diagnosis of congenital adrenal hyperplasia as well as screening for candidate genes for mutations in various reproductive disorders. Dr. McDonough was a gentleman and a scholar whose contributions to medicine and to MCG will never be forgotten. My thoughts are with his family and many friends and colleagues.

Please get vaccinated so we can put this pandemic behind us,

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