July 23, 2021

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

The 260-member Class of 2025 starts next week

As promised our largest class ever, 260 students, joins us next week. Just to recap that means 200 members of our brand new Class of 2025 will be here at the main campus in Augusta and 60 will be based at our second four-year campus in Athens in partnership with the University of Georgia. You may know that 95% of our students must come from our state, per the Georgia Legislature. But like always, our Admissions Office, under the leadership of Dr. Kelli Braun, a 2004 MCG graduate, has put together a strong group of students with a tremendous, diverse background. They come to us from 49 colleges like Brigham Young University based in Provo, Utah, Columbia University in New York City and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana as well as our fellow USG research universities Georgia Tech, UGA and Georgia State University. Our five out-of-state students in this class come from North Carolina, Maryland, Illinois and California. The class’ most popular majors include biochemistry, biology, neuroscience and chemistry but there are also music and criminal justice majors so this should be an eclectic group. Please join me in welcoming them to one of the nation’s first medical schools. As I was saying recently, while our newest students also will be part of one of the nation’s largest medical school classes, they will never find themselves a number here. Instead, they will find each of you, individuals devoted to them and to their success.

Alumni Association provides a stethoscope with the MCG seal for the entire new class

Our MCG Alumni Association will show our new students right off what MCG is made of. We talked early this year about the Alumni Association’s plan to again provide stethoscopes engraved with the MCG seal to each of our new students. I am happy to report they met their goal of providing these beautiful icons of medicine along with a personal note of congratulations and encouragement. As a great example, Dr. Kathryn Whitten Bohmer, 1993 graduate and OB/GYN practicing in Charlotte, North Carolina writes: “Congratulations on your accomplishments that have brought you to this point in your education. Your time at MCG will be valuable as you launch your medical career. You are a part of a tradition of excellent clinicians, spread throughout our country and the world. Your MCG stethoscope will remind you where you started your medical journey.” Thank you, Dr. Whitten Bohmer for your commitment to your profession, to MCG and to the next generation.

Dalton, Hamilton Health Care System great partners in educating the next generation

It is so good to be on the road again visiting our alumni and other supporters across our state. Last week we traveled north to Dalton, Georgia and the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and south to the enchantment of Savannah and the coast. I was privileged to visit one of our newest partners in educating the next generation of physicians and physician-scientists: The not-for-profit Hamilton Health Care System, serving Dalton and that region of Georgia now for about 100 years. In fact, the heath system would surface out of the ashes and lessons of our nation’s last pandemic, the 1918 flu pandemic, and the goal we talk about often and work so hard toward every day: every individual and community having good doctors, hospitals and health care. Jeff Myers, president and CEO of Hamilton Health Care System, a great MCG supporter, has led the thriving health system in Dalton for about a dozen years. One of the many attractive qualities about his health system is it has a commitment to better health care now and in the future, including its now four-year-old affiliation with our Northwest Campus. The health system also has an Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education approved internal medicine residency program, which opened in 2020, and a family medicine residency, which opened just this year, programs which will also contribute to Georgia’s big need for primary care physicians.

Northwest Georgia physicians like Dr. Eric Turner welcome students to their practice

As part of their work with us, the busy physicians and health system in Dalton welcome our medical students for a lot of rotations including those two primary care specialties as well as general surgery, psychiatry, neurology, pediatrics, OB/GYN, orthopaedic and vascular surgery, urology and ophthalmology. It’s definitely worth also noting that our partners in Dalton even house and feed our students. How much better partners can you ask for? In keeping with their forward momentum, they also recently opened the beautiful Peeples Cancer Institute, and our Dr. Jorgé Cortes, director of the Georgia Cancer Center, is now having conversations with them about working together to take on Georgia’s number two killer (just behind heart disease). Dr. Eric Turner, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the medical director at Peeples and gave us a great tour of the new place. He shared that he and his colleagues in oncology, Dr. Lisa Duhaime, a graduate of the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and Dr. Qin Zhang, a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, are happy to welcome our students into their practices. In fact, Joseph Elengickal, Harrison Scholar from the Class of 2023 who hails from Alpharetta, Georgia, was with Drs. Duhaime and Zhang when we met. As I say all the time, we could not educate our large — and growing — class of medical students without great colleagues like these. We also would not want to. Thank you all so much.  

MCG graduate Dr. Steven Paynter, president of Whitfield/Murray County Medical Society, hosts MCG leadership

That night I was privileged to speak to the Whitfield/Murray County Medical Society and join them and about a dozen of our students currently living and learning up Dalton way for dinner. I am proud to say that 1983 MCG graduate and general surgeon Dr. Steven Paynter, who also has helped educate our students, is president of the Whitfield/Murray Medical Society, and his son Jordan just completed his orthopaedic residency with us. It was quite a gathering at the Dalton Golf and Country Club, with more than 60 attendees, including a good showing of our graduates who practice up that way. Again, that is one of the reasons I love traveling our state, especially when traveling with Scott Henson, AVP for Alumni Engagement, because I get to see firsthand the impact of our medical school. I hope each of you have the opportunity to get a bird’s eye view sometimes as well. It is both a humbling and motivating experience.

Alumni Association hosts welcome dinner for students at Southeast Campus

A couple of days later it was on to Savannah where our awesome Alumni Association hosted a welcome dinner for our students living and learning on the coast. We actually started sending students down that way in 2007 to longtime partner St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System, three years later we more fully embraced beautiful Brunswick and the Southeast Georgia Health System and about this time 10 years ago, some of our third- and fourth-year students started living in Savannah and Brunswick rather than just doing an occasional clerkship. Savannah urologist, 1999 MCG graduate and former Alumni Association President Dr. Buffi Boyd was our host for this fun event at Vic’s On the River in a restored cotton warehouse downtown. I sat next to Patrick Lorenz, a fourth-year student and the only one in a tie by dinner time (it was a UVA tie so we allowed it). At a nearby table was his father, Dr. Gifford Lorenz, a Baylor graduate and critical care physician who teaches our students at Candler Hospital. It was the first time our Alumni Association had been back to Vic’s, since its owner, the legend and 1945 MCG graduate Dr. Irving Victor, died in 2020. While we will always miss Dr. Victor, a urologist who opened Vic’s when he was in his 80s and passed at 97, it was real good to be back at his place with a crowd of more than 60 of his fellow graduates and our students. Dr. Victor did convince me with a taste test that his crab cakes were better than the ones in Baltimore.

Fukais find copper transporter new treatment target for cardiovascular disease

Finally today, we talked last time about the cool new initiative being led by Dr. Neal Weintraub that is taking on the intersection of cancer and cardiovascular disease. There was a lot of heady competition to become one of four American Heart Association-funded centers leading this charge. Our longstanding research excellence in cardiovascular disease, the state and nation’s number one killer, was a definite strength. The recently published work of Drs. Tohru Fukai and Masuko Ushio-Fukai, vascular biologists in our Vascular Biology Center, is a good example. Their many well-funded pursuits include better understanding the roles of the essential micronutrient copper, a metal a lot of our cells must have, and which we must consume in foods like those delicious crab cakes at Vic’s. Now they have found an interesting new twist: the same internal transporter that enables us to use the copper we consume in crab cakes also protects a receptor critical to making new blood vessels in a process called angiogenesis. That makes this transporter, ATP7A, a likely new therapeutic target for cardiovascular disease conditions, where new blood vessels could help restore adequate blood and oxygen and prevent or minimize conditions like heart attack, peripheral artery disease and stroke. Good work Drs. Fukai and Ushio-Fukai. Let’s do a road trip to Savannah sometime.

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

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