May 19, 2023

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Board of Regents approves renovations, paving the way for a new four-year MCG campus in Savannah

As I’ve said many times here, I believe that as the only public medical school in one of the country’s most populous and fastest-growing states, educating doctors for Georgia is both our responsibility and our most critical mission. Our state routinely ranks near the bottom in the number of physicians per capita and many underserved areas have little to no access to primary care physicians, much less any other specialists. One way we must address these issues is by simply educating more future physicians by increasing our class size, which at 264 students per class is already one of the largest in the country. We took a big step forward this week when the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents approved $1.7 million in renovations to buildings on Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong Campus in Savannah. These renovations, which will provide about 23,000 square feet of instructional and lab space as well as creation of a new anatomy lab, will pave the way for a partnership between us and GSU to establish our third four-year campus. Pending approval by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which accredits medical schools in the US and Canada, we hope to add an additional 40 students per class in Savannah by the fall of 2024. None of this would have been possible without the support of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who included the $1.7 million in his fiscal year 2024 state budget. I am also thankful to Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, the Georgia Legislature, particularly House Speaker Jon Burns and State Rep. Butch Parrish, who have both been tireless advocates for MCG; and to the Board of Regents, Chancellor Sonny Perdue, President Keel and our new partners at Georgia Southern.

New campus will build on longtime relationship with St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System

We can’t talk about supportive partners without also expressing our gratitude to our longtime exceptional education partners in Savannah at St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System, and in particular their CEO Paul Hinchey and chief medical officer Dr. Julia Mikell, a 1976 MCG graduate, who have both provided unwavering encouragement for this new campus that will be fittingly located just down the street from St. Joseph’s Hospital. Their support came as no surprise because they and all the physicians and staff at St. Joseph’s/Candler have been serving as one home base for our Southeast Campus and providing rich clinical experiences for our third- and fourth-year students since that regional campus was established in 2011. (The other home base is at Southeast Georgia Health System, just down I-95 in Brunswick.) I know that commitment will be just as strong for students at this new four-year campus. My thanks as well to our campus associate deans, in Savannah, Dr. Elizabeth Gray, and in Brunswick, Dr. Wayne Rentz, who also work tirelessly to ensure that MCG students have the best education experiences possible learning alongside physicians in Southeast Georgia.

Dr. Paul Ferguson, founder of medical education in Rome, passes away

We simply could not provide the caliber of medical education that our students deserve without the help of our partners across the state, including at our second four-year campus in Athens in partnership with UGA, and at our regional campuses like the one in Savannah and Brunswick, as well as those in Albany and Rome. I’m sad to say that last week we lost the founder of medical education in Rome, Dr. Paul Ferguson, who was instrumental in helping establish our Northwest Campus, who passed May 9. This neurosurgeon and retired CEO of the famed Harbin Clinic, one of our teaching partners there, long ago recognized the need for more physicians for Georgia and more education partners for MCG, and in his own words thought “Well, why not Rome?” Dr. Ferguson was a native of Waycross but had called Rome home since 1976 and by all accounts was a passionate advocate for his community – serving not just MCG and its students up that way, but community partners like the Rome Rotary Club, the Northwest Georgia Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Rome City Schools and the state Technical College System, among others. There was simply no end to what he could and would do for his community, according to our Northwest Campus associate dean, Dr. Paul Brock. No doubt his passing is a huge loss to Rome and to the entire state of Georgia. We will miss his friendship and his support of MCG. Our thoughts are with his many family and friends.

Dr. William “Bill” Fricks selected to serve on Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce

In keeping with the theme of the great partners we have in every corner of our state, I am happy to share that Dr. William “Bill” Fricks, a 2000 graduate who practices family medicine and has long taught our students at our Southwest Campus in Albany, was just appointed by Gov. Kemp to the Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce. This important board works to ensure Georgia communities, especially in medically underserved areas, have improved access to physicians and other health care providers. They also provide crucial information about the state’s health care workforce that helps identify the areas most in need, and they offer loan repayment programs for physicians, dentists, physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses, who commit to practice in those areas. Dr. Fricks is a perfect fit for this board because he knows firsthand the unique challenges faced by physicians and other health care providers in underserved Georgia. He completed his residency training at the Southwest Georgia Family Medicine Residency Program, now known as the Phoebe Family Medicine Program, and never left Albany. He has been director of that program since 2020. Congratulations Dr. Fricks. We know you will be a terrific advocate for the health care needs of underserved Georgia and another proud example of how MCG graduates are making an impact across the state and beyond.

Drs. Meghan McGee-Lawrence and Mark Hamrick study how to stop accelerated aging associated with HIV infection and treatment

Speaking of impactful, MCG aging experts Drs. Meghan McGee-Lawrence and Mark Hamrick just received a $3.2 million grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases to study the paradox of how antiretroviral cocktails can make human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, undetectable and untransmittable, but that both the virus and its treatment can also accelerate aging of bone and muscle. It’s called accentuated aging and it means that bone and muscle changes you normally see in a 75-year-old person start to show up, on average, 10 years earlier. The unhealthy bottom line is excessive inflammation. The scientists are working to identify logical points to put the brakes on the acceleration and to determine whether drugs already in clinical trials for cancer, called IDO inhibitors, can put a halt to the development of these problems. This is a great example of how a homegrown discovery, like how IDO is used by the fetus to keep the mother’s immune system from recognizing it as an invader and by tumors to stay hidden as well, has impact far and wide. IDO inhibitors have given hope to children with relapsed brain cancer and may help improve both our lifespan and our healthspan. Impressive work. More to come on this on the MCG homepage soon.

Unite in the Fight exceeds fundraising goal

As we close today, I also want to congratulate the team at our Georgia Cancer Center who just this past weekend held their annual Unite in the Fight Against Cancer fundraiser. Hundreds of cancer survivors, their families, their friends and the community-at-large came together for this one-and-a-half mile walk to honor and celebrate patients diagnosed with all forms of cancer. You may notice the different colored awareness ribbons dotting the trees up and down Laney Walker Boulevard, which was where the walking course began and ended. Teams and individuals raised money which will be used to improve treatment and support services for patients. This year, their goal was $75,000. At the last check, they had raised over $90,000. Great job. And thank you all for your hard work and for your commitment to improving the lives of people living with cancer.

My best to you always,

Dean Hess Signature

David C. Hess, MD

Dean, Medical College of Georgia

Upcoming Events

Jun 13 – MCG Faculty Awards Ceremony, 5 p.m., Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

Jun 16 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium