August 11, 2023

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Dr. Elizabeth Gray appointed founding dean of Savannah four-year campus

We’ve talked often here about plans for our new campus in Savannah, which will be our third four-year campus, and will allow us to increase our class size by 40 students per class. Just last month, we received word from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education that our plans met their rigorous standards. This week we took another big step in those plans and named Dr. Elizabeth Gray the campus’ founding dean. Many of you already know Dr. Gray, an internist who has been associate dean at the Southeast Campus, which is based in Savannah and Brunswick, since 2020. In her current role, she has worked tirelessly to strengthen and grow relationships with our clinical partners, St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System, and many other community stakeholders in Savannah. She has also built a strong community research program for students at that campus, which I was fortunate enough to see the results of last year when those students presented their research publicly for the first time. She is a go-getter, and a well-respected administrator and educator. I know her experience building strong relationships and her already great reputation will be tremendous assets as we continue to grow opportunities for medical education in Southeast Georgia, and ultimately, help reduce Georgia’s ongoing physician shortage. Congratulations, Dr. Gray.

Third cohort of Peach State Scholars pinned

As the only public medical school in a state that continuously ranks near the bottom in number of physicians, and in turn, near the top in poor health outcomes, I view it as our responsibility to be aggressive in the ways we work to improve those numbers. According to the most recent Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce report, nine counties in Georgia have no physicians. The numbers only get worse when it comes to primary care physicians — 18 counties have no family medicine physicians, 40 no internists, 65 no pediatricians, 82 no OB/GYNs, 80 no general surgeons, 90 no psychiatrists, and 73 no emergency medicine physicians. As you well know, in 2021, we launched our 3+ Primary Care Pathway Program, which allows a percentage of students to finish their medical school training in three years before entering a primary care residency in Georgia. Those students receive a scholarship for their tuition in exchange for their commitment to serve in a rural or underserved area of the state – scholarships that were made possible by a generous $5.2 million donation from Peach State Health Plan. That same year, Governor Brian Kemp and the Georgia General Assembly matched the initial $5.2 million in funding; and then in 2022, added an additional $8.7 million to the program, which was matched by MCG donors and the Medical College of Georgia Foundation. And we have news that more funds are coming to this program. You’ll remember that our first cohort of Peach State Scholars graduated in May and are now in their first year of residency right here at MCG and AU Health System.

Students represent a wide variety of specialties, come from across Georgia

I am proud to say that last week, we introduced our third and largest cohort of Peach State Scholars at their annual pinning ceremony. I was honored to stand next to Dr. James Richardson, chief medical director at Peach State, as well as Dr. Russell Keen, AU’s EVP of administration and chief of staff, our vice dean for academic affairs, Dr. Mike Brands and program director Dr. Erin Latif – who is really more of mother figure to these students than a program director – as we placed those peach colored pins, in the shape of the iconic MCG seal on the white coats of nine new scholars. This year’s scholars are interested in a variety of different specialties and come from across Georgia, and even one from South Carolina. They and their chosen specialties are: Jordan M. Bothwell, of Roswell, emergency medicine; Madison L. Chimenti of Canton, emergency medicine; Christopher P. Dick of Dunwoody, internal medicine; Samantha N. Feinstein of Hartsfield, pediatrics; Jessica H. McElrath of Woodstock, pediatrics; Taylor Nicholson of Suwanee, psychiatry; Caleb A. Padgett of Langley, South Carolina, internal medicine; Blayne Thomason Santa Maria of Dalton, OB/Gyn; and Peter-Jon Williams of Douglasville, internal medicine. You can read more about this year’s scholars and what led them to medicine here. Congratulations and my best wishes to you all on this incredible journey. I know you will become outstanding physicians who will make a profound difference in the lives of your future patients.

Health system recognizes top performers, based on patient feedback

We know that patients are always looking for information that helps them find those outstanding physicians. In fact, more than 83% of patients say they search online to find a doctor, even after being referred to one. The recently launched Physicians Transparency Initiative at AU Health provides that information in the form of verified patient reviews on their Find-a-Provider website. They also take patient feedback and convert it into a 5-star rating system to determine who are our “top” providers. This week, I received word from Julie Moretz, chief experience officer and AVP of patient- and family-centered care, that 73 physicians and other health care providers have been recognized as Star Performers by our health system – 64 of them received a 4.9-star rating and nine received a 5-star rating from verified patient surveys. In fact, 95% of our providers earned star ratings above 4.5 stars. Congratulations to you all and thank you for your dedication to those who trust you with their care.

MCG celebrities participate in charity dance challenge in Rome

Finally today, a little (more) fun. I already knew that our alumni and faculty were a talented bunch. I apparently didn’t know to what extent. Last weekend a group of them from Romeput on their dancing shoes for a good cause and took to the stage for the 2023 Rome Celebrity Dance Challenge, which benefits the Sexual Assault Center of Northwest Georgia. Participants included Dr. Henaro Sabino, a clinical faculty member and pediatric cardiologist up that way, who performed an athletic hip-hop routine; Dr. Dixon Freeman, the campus’ assistant dean for curriculum, who performed a ballroom routine to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”; and 1992 alums Dr. Kenneth Howard, a family medicine physician in Calhoun, Georgia, and his wife Dr. Robersteen Howard, who is the pediatrics clerkship director for our Northwest Campus, who performed as a couple in a James Bond-themed medley and were the runners-up for Judges’ Choice. All in all, 12 teams performed, and I’m told every one of them were fantastic, but the real winner was the Sexual Assault Center because a record-breaking $215,000 was raised. I wish I could have been there to see it. Thank you all for the gift of your time and commitment to important causes like this.

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