July 14, 2023

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Important progress toward opening our new four-year campus in Savannah

I say it all the time, but I truly believe that these are some of the most exciting times in MCG’s almost 200-year history. We added to the excitement recently, when we received word from our accrediting body, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, that our plans to establish our third four-year campus in Savannah, in partnership with Georgia Southern University, met their rigorous standards. While the LCME is not in the business of deciding whether medical schools should move forward with new campuses and increased class size, per se, they do determine whether there appear to be adequate resources to support proposed changes. As we’ve talked about here, resources for this new campus include $1.7 million in renovations to buildings on Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong Campus in Savannah that are providing about 23,000 square feet of instructional and lab space, as well as creation of a new anatomy lab. They also include our long-established educational partnership with St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System, which has served as one home base for our Southeast Campus for more than a decade. Paul Hinchey the CEO of St Joseph/Candler has provided unwavering support over the years and for the four-year campus. None of this would be possible without them, as well as the support of President Keel, President Kyle Marrero and our other colleagues at Georgia Southern, Chancellor Sonny Perdue, Executive Vice Chancellor Teresa MacCartney and the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, as well as Speaker of the House Jon Burns, State Rep. Butch Parrish and the entire legislature. We hope to enroll our first class of 40 students there in the fall of 2024, increasing our total enrollment to 304 students per class, and thereby increasing the number of physicians we can provide for Georgia. This determination by the LCME is one of the most important steps toward making all of this a reality.

Academic affairs team welcomes Dr. Leila Stallworth

While there is still much to be done before we welcome our largest first-year class ever, next fall, there is plenty of hard work already going on as we prepare to welcome 264 students into the MCG Class of 2027 in just a short couple of weeks. Our academic affairs team is putting in many long hours planning their orientation and ensuring that these students have a smooth transition to medical school. I wanted to take time here to welcome the newest member of that team, Dr. Leila Stallworth, who is now serving as assistant dean for student affairs – year one and assistant dean for career advising. Dr. Stallworth is no stranger to MCG or to medical education – this dedicated pediatrician is a 1995 graduate who also completed her residency at MCG and CHOG before joining the faculty. She is an honored educator who has been recognized with multiple Exemplary Teaching Awards for both undergraduate and graduate medical education and has also served in various leadership roles, including vice chair of education for the Department of Pediatrics, Pediatric Residency Program director and as our interim associate dean for admissions. As Dr. Stallworth steps into this new role, her predecessor as first-year class dean, Dr. Chris Watson, will transition to assistant dean for student affairs – year four, helping shepherd our senior medical students through their last year of medical school and into residency. Please let me thank you both for your service and commitment to this medical school and to our future colleagues.

Dr. Lia Bruner wraps up term on AAMC Group on Women in Medicine and Science

Here’s another example of outstanding service to our medical school and to the next generation: Dr. Lia Bruner, an associate professor of family and community medicine at our partnership campus in Athens, just wrapped up her term as MCG’s designee and chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Group on Women in Medicine and Science, which advocates for women’s advancement and leadership in our field. For the last three years, Dr. Bruner has worked to rejuvenate and grow this important group. When she took the helm, for instance, members weren’t even meeting regularly. But over her term she has helped introduce a new listserv that is still growing in subscribers, new social media accounts, as well as new committees and awards – all great work. And even though Dr. Bruner is ending her leadership term, we know the group will remain in good hands because Dr. Kim Giffen, an assistant professor of neuroscience and regenerative medicine at the Medical Partnership, is stepping up to take on this important role. Congratulations to you both.

Dr. Sylvia Smith, beloved leader, prolific researcher, longtime chair of Cellular Biology and Anatomy, is retiring

I believe that MCG has the best faculty and staff among this nation’s medical schools. Part of what makes that true is your dedication to others and commitment to service, whether that be on national committees or right here on our own campus. Someone whose name is synonymous with both is Dr. Sylvia Smith, who has chaired our Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy since 2013 and co-directed AU’s Culver Vision Discovery Institute since 2008. This prolific researcher and renown expert in retinal cell biology actually started her career as a speech-language pathologist, inspired by her childhood interest in Helen Keller. Instead, she found her passion for basic science research, particularly in forming a better understanding of how the retina works and what goes awry in retinal diseases. We’re thankful she did. She first joined our faculty in 1991 and shortly thereafter received her first NIH grant on her first submission. No small feat. In fact, her work has been continuously funded since. She also served a four-year term, from 2016-20 on the National Advisory Eye Council, advising the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary and the director of the National Eye Institute.

Dr. Mark Hamrick will serve as interim chair

Dr. Smith is also a servant leader who prides herself on the success of others. In 2020, for example, she was key in securing a $3 million National Eye Institute P30 grant. These grants are aimed at providing the infrastructure and fostering the types of collaborations that grow research programs and this one came at a critical time of growth for vision research here. She has certainly left her mark on this medical school, both literally and figuratively. In fact, in searching for a way to give back to MCG, three years ago,  she and her husband Ken endowed the G. Lombard Kelly Lecture, an annual lecture, coordinated by graduate students in the department and featuring leaders in the field of science. I could go on and on about her contributions. It saddens me to tell you that Dr. Smith has decided to retire this summer, after more than three decades of service to MCG. The loss of her presence on this campus will certainly be profound, but I wish her and Ken much happiness in their retirement. I am also thankful to Dr. Mark Hamrick, a bone and muscle biologist who has been on the CBA faculty for many years and serves as our senior associate dean for research, for stepping in to serve as interim chair. 

YouTube videos are highlighting our faculty’s expertise

Like Dr. Smith and Dr. Hamrick, so many of you are renowned in your fields and we are always looking for new ways to highlight your important work. With the great help of our newest communications team member, Tim Rausch, who joined our office earlier this year, and AU video journalist, Joi Daniels, we are now producing medical and health informational videos for YouTube and our other social media channels featuring you, our faculty experts. The first one is certainly timely, skin safety to enjoy the outdoors in the summer, with advice from our chair of the Department of Dermatology, Dr. Loretta Davis. I already knew what a great physician and educator she was, but I’m telling you, a star is born! Hollywood will surely be calling soon. Fantastic job, Dr. Davis. You can watch her debut here. Stay tuned to MCG’s playlist on the university’s YouTube channel, where we will be creating more videos that share more of your impressive knowledge with a worldwide audience.

My best to you always,

Dean Hess Signature

David C. Hess, MD

Dean, Medical College of Georgia

Upcoming Events

Aug 18 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

Sept 15 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

Oct 21 – MCG White Coat Ceremony, 2 p.m., TBD

Oct 27 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

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

Nov 17 – Body Donation Memorial Service, 1 p.m., Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium