October 14, 2022

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Road trip to our Northwest Georgia campus

On the road again this week and what a perfect time to visit north Georgia. The hills and mountains are always beautiful, and the fall leaves ran a close second. But one of the best things about my visit to our Northwest Campus based in Rome and Dalton was the people. They do love and support the Medical College of Georgia and our students and that is beyond gratifying. Some of the best news this week up that way was the announcement of our new associate dean of the Northwest Campus, Dr. Paul Brock. As he wrote so eloquently: I believe each medical professional has immense opportunity to improve themselves and the people and patients they encounter, and this all starts with their training. How is that for common ground with Georgia’s only public medical school. Dr. Brock succeeds Dr. Leonard Reeves, the first campus dean up that way, and joins assistant dean for the Northwest Campus, OB/GYN Dr. Dixon Freeman, who we told you about a few months back. You may remember that I selected both Dr. Brock and Internist and Pediatrician Dr. G. Waldon Garris, who leads the internal medicine training program at Wellstar Kennestone, for our community advocates award earlier this year because of not just what they do, but how they do it. Dr. Brock, a general surgeon, has been honored by our students up that way time and again. He has been with our Northwest Campus since it officially opened in 2013 and was critical to helping us garner the tremendous support of physicians up that way. For a decade he led our general surgery clerkship there. As campus associate dean he will work to develop even more great colleagues to help educate our students. I say “help” here, but without these colleagues, MCG simply could not educate one of the nation’s largest medical school classes, never mind provide to our students so many different practice experiences. Importantly, Dr. Brock has at his side his wife Joan, who has endless energy and enthusiasm and will multiply his impact there, much like Kathy Freeman, who also happens to be a tireless advocate for the homeless community, already has been doing. Great teams. We must note here that they also are fortunate to have at their side Vicki Wiles, clinical coordinator, who has endless insight about our Northwest Campus and helps keep it moving ever forward. Vicki and the campus’ Administrative Assistant Sheila Young get every detail right. They even had my favorite cheese waiting for me: Jarlsberg Swiss from Norway. Thank you all for what you have done and will do.

Jeff Myers, president and CEO, Hamilton Health Care System is a visionary leader

Partnerships are something I like to talk about because in life and in work they are essential to success. One of the many awesome partners we have in Northwest Georgia is Jeff Myers, president and CEO of Hamilton Health Care System, a position he has held since about this time in 2009. Jeff is a visionary about health care, one of those people that you think can almost see into the future because he plans so well in the present. While so many hospitals are unfortunately struggling, he is ensuring that his has adequate adjacent land to grow. He’s also a cattle farmer who builds housing for our students, who are privileged to live and learn up that way. “Young minds bring in the latest and greatest in medical knowledge, which assures us that there’s constant quality and improvement of care,” Jeff once said to us. While we absolutely agree, evidence would suggest that Jeff and his health system have long had all the inspiration they need.

This 100+ year-old hospital has got it going on

Hamilton Health Care System, based in Dalton, is a beautiful example of both innovation and resiliency in the hyperdynamic field of health care. It opened in 1921 because the workers at Crown Cotton Mills, the region’s biggest employer, needed it and the last big pandemic, the 1918 Flu Pandemic, showed that really everyone did. It’s worth noting here that the COVID-19 Pandemic has definitely reiterated the need. The Great Depression almost took the hospital down just a few years later, and it did close for 10 months, but with tremendous support from the community the doors would open again. When so many community physicians went to serve their country during World War II, it was another tough time. But instead of giving up, the Dalton City Council created a hospital authority which received strong funding support from the community and from the Hill- Burton Act, which Congress passed in 1946 to provide hospitals, nursing homes and others needed funding to build and modernize and in return those facilities agreed to provide service to their community and to provide a “reasonable volume” of services to those who could not pay for their care. In Dalton that enabled a new 73-bed hospital to emerge in 1956, the same year we opened our own hospital, which got its start as the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Hospital.

Hamilton’s services include a retirement community, the Peeples Cancer Institute and a developmental center for children

Hamilton has not missed a beat since, adding a retirement community, low-income housing for seniors, skilled nursing facilities, and today stands as a modern, clean and innovative facility serving its community as promised. It has a huge primary care clinic, Hamilton Convenient Care, the Turner Maternal and Infant Care Center, which includes a level 3 neonatal intensive care unit, the Mashburn Cardiac Pavilion and the Peeples Cancer Institute. Just as the hospital was founded to meet a clear need, the beautiful Anna Shaw Children’s Institute exists as well now to meet the very specific needs of children who are dealing with developmental problems, a bull’s-eye for children in their community and across our state and nation. With their eyes still on a healthier future, they also have a residency in family medicine, under the leadership of Dr. Bryan D. Cheever, and an internal medicine residency under the direction of Dr. Daniel Grace, physicians who both really want to work with our 3+ students who, like them, have made a commitment to primary care in more rural areas of our state.

Our Northwest Campus provides our students eight clerkships, and much more

Our Northwest Campus also has a strong lineup of clerkship programs, where our students can immerse themselves in the modern care being provided in these kinds of state-of-the-art facilities up Northwest Georgia way. I am proud that MCG graduates are leading five of the eight programs there in — take a deep breath — psychiatry, pediatrics, internal medicine, neurology, family medicine, emergency medicine, OB/GYN and surgery. The amazing leaders of the clerkships include Dr. Robersteen Howard, a 1992 MCG graduate and pediatrician at the famed Harbin Clinic in Rome, Dr. David Hale, 2005 MCG graduate and neurologist, who is also at the Harbin Clinic;  Dr. Heather Pryor, 1996 MCG graduate, who like we hope many of our current students will do, completed her family medicine residency at Floyd Medical Center in Rome and also practices at the Harbin Clinic; Dr. Cline Jackson, 2005 MCG graduate, an emergency medicine physician who also did his training with us; and Dr. Mac McKemie, a 1989 MCG graduate who also did his general surgery residency with us and was recruited last year as trauma medical director at Floyd Medical Center (now Atrium Health Floyd) in Rome last year. Dr. McKemie recently came on board as our clerkship director with Dr. Brock moving into his new position. Dr. McKemie also has an appointment at Harbin and it’s a good place to say that many of these fine physicians practice at more than one place and it is awesome for them and our students to have so many choices. Also recently appointed is Dr. Ray Jarvis, an OB/GYN at Harbin and graduate of Mercer University School of Medicine; and Dr. Billy Chacko, internist and vascular medicine physician, who went to medical school at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, then did internal medicine training at Geisinger Medical Center and vascular surgery at Wake Forest. Finally, we celebrate and thank Dr. Joseph Seal, a graduate of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, who a decade ago helped establish the psychiatry clerkship at our Northwest Campus and is retiring. A search is underway to try to fill those big, dedicated shoes.

It’s a big, powerful village in Northwest Georgia helping educate the next generation

As I hope you can tell, it was a terrific, inspiring time up in Northwest Georgia this week. With us were so many other great individuals like Georgia legislators Rep. Katie Dempsey, whose many committees include Higher Education and Health and Human Services, and Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, whose service to the state also includes membership on the Higher Education and Health and Human Services Committees. Georgia Highlands College President Dr. Mike Hobbs, whose college provides a beautiful, welcoming academic home for the faculty, staff and students of our Northwest Georgia campus, was with us along with Dr. Lisa Jellum, dean of the GHC School of Health Sciences. Kenna Stock, CEO, and Dr. Ed McBride, CMO of the Harbin Clinic and Dr. Paul Ferguson, neurosurgeon and retired Harbin president and CEO who was instrumental in the founding of this great campus were with us as well. Unfortunately, Kurt Stuenkel, President and CEO of Atrium Health Floyd could not be with us. Dr. Julie Barnes, CMO of Advent Health Redmond and Dr. John Kirkland, vascular surgeon and program director for the transitional year residency at Advent Health Redmond were there. So was Redmond’s President and CEO Mike Murrill. We had a parking lot conversation with him, which is often the best kind, about future plans for his hospital and our future with them. Turns out, he is from Kansas City, like our still-new Vice Dean for Academic Affairs Dr. Mike Brands. It really is a small world. Caroline Aultman, executive director of Blue Ridge AHEC (Area Health Education Center) is definitely our partner as well in health science education and in serving more rural areas of our state; and so is 1981 MCG Graduate Dr. Gary Voccio, director of the 10-county public health district director based in Rome, who both joined us. It really was inspirational. It definitely takes a village to do what we do and this part of our great state is a terrific example of that. Of course, one of the things they share is their commitment to better health and our students and we all were happy to also see them this week. In Rome we saw Brian Basden, from Marietta who wants to pursue psychiatry; Jeremy Zimmerman, from Suwanee, who wants to be a hematologist/oncologist; Natalia Brody from Duluth, who wants to be a pediatrician; Niambh O’Neill, whose parents have lived in Rome for the past dozen years or so, wants to be a general surgeon; Nicholas Ehrhardt, from Peachtree Corners wants to work in physical medicine and rehabilitation, which like so many areas of medicine is much in demand; Nikhil Gangasani from Duluth wants to take care of our hearts, like his father; and Sarah Beller, from Canton, wants to be an otolaryngologist. In Dalton were James Alin, also from Peachtree Corners, who wants to be a radiation oncologist; Cortney Sugihara, from Aliso Viejo, California, wants to pursue pediatric neurology; and Princess Ogundu, from Hahira, a designated “tree city” further south, who wants to be a pediatrician. Great work everyone and, again we could not and would not want to do this without you.

Drs. Willie and Ruth Caldwell take on the body’s unnatural tendency keep inflammation turned up in eye disease

Back to powerful partners for a minute. Drs. Willie and Ruth Caldwell are another enduring, dynamic duo for each other and for MCG. They married in 1964, he joined our faculty in 1987 and she joined us the next year. This is neat: Their scientific collaboration didn’t officially start until 1980 but they have definitely been killing it ever since, even as retired rehires. He’s chair emeritus of our Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and she is a cell biologist in our Vascular Biology Center, which also regularly kills it. They just published two great studies that provide new insight and new targets in the blinding disorders diabetic retinopathy and retinopathy of prematurity. Like so many problems that plague us, these two conditions also have inflammation in common, and they have found a novel way to keep the eyes from over-reacting. It’s a bit of robbing Peter to pay Paul that you can read more about here that keeps inflammation at bay and better protects vision in these conditions. Stay tuned. There is (thankfully) always more ahead.

Dr. Robert Parrish, MCG graduate and founder of our Pediatric Surgery Section, passes

Today we note the passing of another great MCG partner and graduate. Dr. Robert Parrish was a 1956 graduate of our medical school, a native of Augusta and graduate of the Academy of Richmond County. Dr. Parrish started our Section of Pediatric Surgery and served as the first chief of pediatric surgery. More of you here now likely know our Dr. Charlie Howell, a 1973 MCG graduate and pediatric surgeon who became the second pediatric surgery chief in 1993 and still works hard here every day as CEO of AU Medical Associates. From what I hear and remember, these two were absolute advocates for children, back in the day when our Children’s Hospital of Georgia was called the Children’s Medical Center and was housed on the eighth floor of our hospital. Dr. Howell shares that the two worked side by side from 1978 to 1993. “He was my mentor,” Dr. Howell tells us. “He was a great man, a great teacher and a great surgeon. He was the inspiration for myself, Dr. Charles Wagner (former general surgery resident here who was inspired to go on to train in pediatric surgery at Saint Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia and practice pediatric surgery in Little Rock) and Dr. Robyn Hatley (who would also go off for his subspecialty training but fortunately came back to us) to pursue pediatric surgery as a career.” Our thoughts and gratitude are with Dr. Parrish’s family and friends.

Dr. Eric Lewkowiez is lining up riders for PaceDay 2022

Finally today, I always want you to be careful out there on the roadways but this Sunday please keep a special eye out for those bike riders out raising dollars for the Georgia Cancer Center. This is the third annual PaceDay and opening ceremonies start at 4 p.m. this Saturday at SRP Park in North Augusta with the bike riders starting out Sunday. I want to especially thank Dr. Eric Lewkowiez, assistant dean for learner affairs for our third-year students and another strong child advocate as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, for going the extra mile to get riders on the road and raising money. His approach is both disarming and persistent. He will even lend one of his six bikes for this good cause. 

All my very best to you,

David C. Hess, MD
Dean, Medical College of Georgia

Upcoming Events

Oct 16 – PaceDay 2022, Georgia Cancer Center Paceline Ride

Oct 21 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

Oct 21 – Raft Debate, 6 p.m., J. Harold Harrison, MD Education Commons

Oct 22 – White Coat Ceremony, 2 p.m., Bell Auditorium

Nov 11 – Annual Body Donor Memorial Service, 1 p.m., Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium