January 27, 2023

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Time for introspection

Listening to what others we respect have to say about us is one good way to help ourselves grow. So is looking in the mirror. Both perspectives are key to the yearlong self-study we have just kicked off in preparation for our reaccreditation site visit in January 2024 by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. As many of you know, the LCME accredits medical education programs in the United States and Canada that lead to an MD. Even though our Medical College of Georgia has two four-year campuses (Augusta and Athens) and three regional campuses (based in Albany, Rome/Dalton, Savannah/Brunswick and one more coming soon!), there is a single accreditation for our one medical school. In addition to accreditation of our medical school, we must seek LCME approval before making significant changes here like adding the regional campus in Atlanta we are hoping for in partnership with Wellstar Health System. “It’s a 360 look at our whole educational program,” says Dr. Ashley Saucier, MCG graduate, family medicine physician who directs medical education for our Department of Family and Community Medicine, and assistant dean for evaluation, accreditation and continuous quality improvement. As her newest and last title would imply, Dr. Saucier is our LCME clinical faculty lead. Dr. Ruchi Patel, coordinator of our new Master of Science in Medical Physiology program, is the LCME basic science faculty lead.

Drs. Ashley Saucier and Ruchi Patel are LCME clinical, basic science faculty leads respectively

These newly paired young leaders gave a great presentation together last Friday at the Faculty Senate meeting, which helped set the tone for the collaborative, important work ahead. We are looking at every aspect of MCG, Dr. Saucier noted, from our mission and vision to our curriculum, student advising and support services. A key step has already been taken in obtaining valuable insight from our students. The Independent Student Analysis, a student-run survey required by the LCME, went out last summer and got a great response rate no matter where our students were living and learning at that moment. Our students identified as strengths our dynamic class deans — Dr. Christopher Watson, for first-years; Dr. Greer Falls for second-years; Dr. Eric Lewkowiez, for third-years; and Dr. Jennifer Tucker, another MCG graduate who is now associate dean for student affairs, but who is still there for our seniors while we search for a new class dean. Our students also gave good reviews to essentials like access to diverse patient populations in their clerkships and good supervision while they are in those clinical settings. As Dr. Saucier reminded us “We will always have room to grow,” and where our students would like that growth includes areas like career and elective counseling, our response to their concerns and access to and support for research opportunities. The better news is that we already were working on these many fronts, including listening, under the leadership of Dr. Mike Brands, vice dean for academic affairs, who officially took on this role Sept. 1 of last year. Last year we also started data collection for this self-study opportunity that included things like faculty scholarly activity, promotion and tenure guidelines, admissions processes and really everything about our school. That is one thick Data Collection Instrument, and it and the Independent Student Analysis are due to the LCME at the end of October. Their reaccreditation team will be paying us a visit about this time next year. While I know that this kind of exhaustive self-study and review may not seem that exciting, it really is an opportunity to gain another perspective on the scope and quality of our work here. Please note that MCG received a full eight-year accreditation in 2016. Thank you all for the work you do every day (and night) to make MCG possible.

Educational Innovation Institute has a new role in supporting student research

We were just talking about responsiveness to students and how one of the things they really wanted was a clearer path and support for research. I love to hear that because it shows the next generation’s enthusiasm for finding answers to the endless questions we have about how our bodies work and how to help them work better in the face of age and disease. Honestly, the major revamping of the curriculum that happened a couple of years ago made changes like eliminating the established Summer Research Medical Scholars Program without providing clear options for research pursuits. So Dr. Brands, who also happens to be a federally funded investigator studying hypertension, has expanded the scope of the Educational Innovation Institute to include serving as a one-stop shop for students to look for research opportunities, mentors and research support. Dr. Brands tells us the research opportunities for students will now happen in January, at the close of their first 18th months of medical school. Those who want more, can spend up to five months of continuous time in their fourth year. And, in keeping with support for research opportunities, the Curriculum Office and the Educational Innovation Institute will work together to make this happen. Great stuff.

Drs. Xin-Yun Lu, Ravi Kolhe making international headlines

You know I like research and as a neurologist you know I continue to be fascinated by the brain. Our chair of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Xin-Yun Lu and I have both those likes in common. Dr. Lu is making an international splash out there right now with her newly published work that helps us better understand how chronic stress can result in behavioral changes like depression and anhedonia, which is a loss of interest in things that typically bring us pleasure. As we always hope with research, it also points toward new treatment directions. Fascinating reading and work. Did you know that The Times of India, one of the many international sites where her work is featured, is the largest selling English language daily newspaper in the world? Also out there again at the moment is Dr. Ravi Kolhe, a molecular pathologist and interim chair of our Department of Pathology who also directs our GEM Lab, which was so pivotal during the height of the COVID pandemic. Dr. Kolhe and his colleagues did a fairly exhaustive study to both standardize the use of high-tech, high resolution optical genome mapping as a way to get a better look at the structural changes in genes known to cause blood cancers and showed it could tell us everything current assessments, like karyotyping, could and way more. The idea here is that you can literally see structural variants better (think high-definition television) and you can spot more of them. Logically, that better identifies more treatment targets. Now that he and his colleagues have figured out how this longtime research tool can be mega-useful in the clinic, great clinicians like Dr. Vamsi Kota, a specialist in blood cancers who directs our Bone Marrow Transplant and Cellular Therapy Program and is a coauthor on the study, are planning to start using optical genome mapping next week for our patients at the Georgia Cancer Center. We believe this will be the first use of this technology for patient care in the nation.

Dr. Stephen Parada leads operating room team that performs our first scapulothoracic fusion for muscular dystrophy

Finally today, and speaking of clinical firsts, this past Friday, Dr. Stephen Parada, director of Shoulder Surgery in our Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at MCG and AU Health, and his team performed our first scapulothoracic fusion, to help relieve discomfort and improve arm function for a young patient with muscular dystrophy who thought she would not have use of her arm again. This is a painstaking procedure that requires a great team effort. For this historic moment that included circulating RNs Nychole Seeley and London Vickers and RN Priscilla Hamlet; OR Tech Kaysha Murillo; fourth-year Orthopaedic residents Drs. B. Gage Griswold and Cameron Murphy; and an anesthesia team that included CRNA Darrell Ragan and Megan Griffis, an RN in our Neuro ICU who is currently a student in the CRNA program in the College of Nursing at AU, and  Anesthesiologist Dr. Lyndon Lennard. This type of complex surgery and team approach is a key reason why public academic medical centers exist. Our medical school and Health System are Georgia’s only public academic medical center, which is a badge of honor. Thank you Dr. Parada and team for what you did and do. Stay tuned for more great things ahead.

My best to you always,

Dean Hess Signature

Upcoming Events

Feb 17 – MCG State of the College Address, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

Mar 17 – MCG Match Day

Mar 24 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

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

Apr 28-30 – AU Alumni Weekend, schedule