August 25, 2023

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Dr. Jessica Faulkner honored by American Heart Association

The amazing caliber of the faculty we are privileged to have here at MCG never ceases to amaze me. I have seen and heard countless examples of your indelible impacts during my years as dean – whether it be your work educating the next generation of physicians and physician scientists or your efforts to find the causes, new treatments and potential cures for some of our nation’s top killers. We received more proof of that impact earlier this month when we were notified that Dr. Jessica Faulkner is this year’s recipient of the Harry Goldblatt Award for New Investigators from the American Heart Association’s 2023 Hypertension Council. She will be recognized at the Hypertension Scientific Sessions in Boston week after next. This prestigious award is named for the pathologist who established the first animal model of hypertension in 1934 and recognizes an early career independent investigator working in hypertension or cardiovascular research who has significantly contributed to the understanding of the causes of hypertension and related cardiovascular disease. Dr. Faulkner certainly fits that bill. This Augusta native graduated from AU with a degree in biology, earned her PhD in medical pharmacology at the University of Mississippi and then came back to us for a postdoctoral fellowship in our Vascular Biology Center before joining the faculty in the Departments of Physiology and Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2021. She has a laser focus on understanding the sex differences in hypertension and cardiovascular disease and currently serves as principal investigator on two grants from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, one exploring the role of the satiety hormone leptin in preeclampsia, and another aimed at better understanding obesity-associated cardiovascular disease in women, that together total more than $3 million in direct and indirect costs. Congratulations and well deserved, Dr. Faulkner.

Drs. Marlo Vernon and Chad Ray working to help reduce maternal mortality in Georgia

Here’s another great example of the immense impact you all are making in our community and across our state. The July Maternal Mortality Report from the Georgia Department of Public Health showed that our state’s maternal mortality rate, already one of the highest in the country, is increasing.  Earlier this year, the Georgia General Assembly directed just over $1 million to the GA Department of Public Health in support of two pilot projects here at MCG and AU Health, both focused on improving maternal health. Dr. Chadburn Ray, from our Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, secured a large portion of this funding to build a sustainable Cardio-Obstetrics Program to address the most common causes of maternal morbidity and mortality. Did you know that the CSRA has perhaps the highest incidence of peripartum cardiomyopathy in the United States? Our Cardio-Obstetrics Program, co-directed by Dr. Ray and Dr. Gyanendra Sharma, from our Division of Cardiology, has become a model for other health systems in the State of Georgia. The other part of the funding is helping Dr. Marlo Vernon implement VidaRPM, an app she helped develop after her young cousin died from preeclampsia while 38-weeks pregnant. The app allows women to remotely monitor things like high blood pressure and rapid weight gain, both signs of preeclampsia, as well as symptoms of postpartum depression, and educate them on what to do when they experience them. More than 100 women are currently testing the app in the CSRA and down in Albany. Dr. Vernon says they are seeing some impressive results. For example, a mom from Louisville recognized she was experiencing signs of postpartum pre-eclampsia, took her blood pressure, which was really high, went to her local emergency room and was admitted for 10 days. She credits the app with saving her life. Two more moms have received immediate mental health care after they indicated suicidality. Dr. Vernon hopes to eventually implement the app across Georgia and then nationally. Thank you, Drs. Ray and Vernon, for your work to ensure that Georgia mothers and their babies are getting the lifesaving care they deserve. 

Research Day highlights a wide variety of students’ research projects

An important part of what we do here is inspire the next generation of physicians like Dr. Ray and researchers like Dr. Vernon. The results of that work were on full display at our first semi-annual Research Day last week, which saw our students presenting their own research posters on a wide variety of subjects and disciplines – from specialty-specific projects to research in basic sciences, and on other important issues like diversity, medical education and quality improvement. A total of 60 students presented posters in-person, including several who actually traveled from regional campuses for this amazing opportunity. Fifty-three more, who were either at a regional campus or on an away rotation, presented virtually, with their posters scrolling on screens in the McKnight Family Hall in our Education Commons. Seven students were recognized with poster awards for their research: Fourth-year students Madison Horinek for Best Quality Improvement Poster; Katherine Marino, for Best Clinical Outcomes Poster; and Sruthi Athota and Conner Clark, for Best Specialty Specific Poster; third-year students Mckenzie Maloney for Best Medical Education Poster; and Katharine Tracy, for Best Specialty Specific Poster; and second-year student Kristin Nzerue, who received Best Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Poster. A special thank you to Dr. Brittany Ange, who is an Augusta native and a Lakeside High School graduate and our director of medical student scholarly projects, as well as our entire academic affairs staff for their tireless efforts making sure our students hard work was put on such fantastic display.

Advisory Board for Savannah Campus has a great initial meeting

Medical education and creating more doctors for our state is one of the most critical parts of our mission. As we’ve discussed at length here, we are increasing that number next year with the opening of our four-year campus in Savannah, which will allow us to grow our class size to 304. Last week, I was glad to make the trip down that way for the first meeting of our Community Advisory Board. This group, made up of community stakeholders, educational partners and our faculty, staff and students, will help guide our steps as we work to get that campus up and running in just a year’s time. It was a great gathering of the minds at the MCG Educational Suite, which is housed on the campus of our longtime educational partners there, St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System. I was honored to be joined by people like former Regent Don Waters, who has always been a big supporter of MCG and our health system and is actually a graduate of the former Armstrong State University (now Georgia Southern’s Armstrong Campus); AU President Brooks Keel; Dr. Russell Keen, our EVP of Administration and Chief of Staff; Georgia Southern President Dr. Kyle Marrero; and their Chief of Staff and Associate Vice president for External Affairs, Annalee Ashley; founding campus dean Dr. Elizabeth Gray; and Dr. Kathryn Martin, our associate dean for regional campus coordination. We also had some important representatives from Savannah and the surrounding communities like Bert Brantley, president and CEO of the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce; Curtis Lewis, a local businessman and longtime supporter of MCG student scholarships; Dr. Dan DeLoach, a 1974 MCG graduate, retired plastic surgeon and steadfast supporter of his alma mater; Sister Pat Baber, who is director of the St. Mary’s Community Center, that serves many individuals and families from Savannah’s poorest census tracts, helping them find jobs, prepare their taxes, navigate public benefits, and even get free eye exams and discounted eye glasses. Also joining us were Dr. Scott Bohlke and his wife Jennifer. Dr. Bohlke is not only a former outfielder for the Durham Bulls but a fantastic family medicine physician in Brooklet, Georgia, who also serves as the LIC Director for the Southeast Campus. And I can’t forget the inimitable Dr. John Odom, sui generis, who is a favorite among our medical students. Our students, third-year Tommy Bui and fourth-year Kayla Cooper, who are studying at the SE Campus, were also with us. We also introduced Dr. Gifford Lorenz, a critical care pulmonologist who will have an expanded role at our Savannah campus. It was truly a diverse group and I look forward to their insights and input as we grow our educational footprint in Savannah. 

Dr. Robert Crumrine, longtime chair of our Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine passes away

On a more somber note, I wanted to share the news of the recent passing of Dr. Robert Crumrine, longtime chair of our Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine. Dr. Crumrine was one of the first 50 pediatric anesthesiologists in the country and a pioneer who changed the way babies and children are treated in the operating room with the creation of endotracheal tubes specifically for babies and child-friendly pre-op and post-op patient care, including murals down the hallways and the introduction of flavored anesthesia. He came to Augusta to become our third chair in 1985, a position he held until his retirement in 1999. During his tenure, he helped in the planning and construction of the Children’s Hospital of Georgia and helped to establish the College of Nursing’s Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist program. An award named in his honor is given each year to a first-year MCG anesthesiology resident who best exemplifies the characteristics of an anesthesiologist — detail-oriented, skillful at procedures, calm in stressful situations, and warm and caring to ease patients’ anxiety. Our thoughts are with his many family and friends.

Student talent show benefitting the Georgia Cancer Center is tonight

As we wrap up today, I wanted to take an opportunity to remind you about MCG’s Got Talent, a fundraising show featuring the many amazing artistic gifts of our medical students, that will be held tonight at the Maxwell Theater on the Summerville Campus. The executive director of this year’s show, second-year student Sruthi Dontu, tells me that about 35 students are performing in a variety of acts including bands, vocal solos, Bollywood dances, comedy acts and more. More than a dozen have also submitted their original artwork to be displayed. The art gallery opens at 7:30 and the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door and the proceeds from this year’s show will benefit our Georgia Cancer Center.

All my best to you,

Dean Hess Signature

David C. Hess, MD

Dean, Medical College of Georgia

Upcoming Events

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