September 8, 2023

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Wellstar and AU Health officially launch unified health system, Wellstar MCG Health

To quote University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue, last week we celebrated a “historical moment in Georgia health care” with the launch of Wellstar MCG Health here. This new unified health system combines the strengths of Wellstar, a large non-profit health system that already provides care for 1 in 6 people in Georgia, and the Augusta University Health System, and your nearly 200-year-old medical school. Wellstar CEO Candice Saunders, who along with Chancellor Perdue and President Brooks Keel, was on hand for the public signing last Wednesday, rightly noted that this partnership is the realization of a longtime vision. MCG has had medical students rotating at Wellstar Kennestone for over six years. Wellstar MCG Health may be a new name, but it represents generations of excellent patient care, innovation, research and education. As we have talked about many times before, this partnership will help financially stabilize and grow our health system and medical school. Wellstar has not only committed to investing in facilities and infrastructure here, but also working to strengthen collaborations with rural hospitals, and provide greater access to digital and telehealth services and innovations in clinical care including population health. There is great synergy in our missions and in our organizational cultures and while there is still much work to be done, I do believe great days are ahead. My thanks to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, leadership at both health systems and to you, our faculty and staff, for all of the hard work it took to make this long awaited day a reality.

Partnership will also expand educational opportunities for our students 

In addition to helping grow our health system, this new partnership will also help us expand educational opportunities for our students. Wellstar has long served as a clinical training site for MCG students and in January, a cohort of 17 of them became the first group that will complete all of their core clinical clerkships at Wellstar Kennestone in Marietta. A new cohort will join them in January. It is our eventual hope that, with approval from our accrediting body, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, we can establish a permanent regional clinical campus – much like those we already have in Albany, Rome/Dalton and Savannah/Brunswick — in Atlanta in partnership with Wellstar. In addition to providing exceptional opportunities for undergraduate medical education, our new partners also have 265 graduate medical education slots across the state — in primary care specialties like family, internal and emergency medicine and in subspecialties like orthopaedic surgery. These residency programs already train some of our great graduates and I anticipate that number will only multiply. As you all well know, physicians are more likely to practice where they train, so having more of our graduates complete their residency training in our state will be key to decreasing Georgia’s physician shortage

Dr. Joseph Hobbs to be honored by University System of Georgia Foundation

Someone who is certainly familiar with the need to keep physicians in Georgia — particularly those frontline primary care providers — is Dr. Joseph Hobbs, chair emeritus of our Department of Family and Community Medicine. Throughout his four decades of service to his medical school, this 1974 MCG graduate, taught and influenced thousands of medical students and cared for countless patients. And while he did that work, he also looked for ways to expand training opportunities throughout underserved areas of our state for family medicine residents. His name is synonymous with MCG and his accomplishments are innumerable — he completed his family medicine residency here and was one of the first African Americans to become chief resident, full-time faculty and ultimately the first African American to serve as department chair, a position he held for 22 years. He propelled our Family and Community Medicine Center to recognition by the National Committee on Quality Assurance as a Level 3 Patient Centered Medical Home and, even in his retirement, has come back to work part-time and help us expand primary care training opportunities for our students. It would be impossible to recognize him for all he has accomplished in this short space, but I am happy to share that tonight, the University System of Georgia Foundation will present him with the prestigious Regents Hall of Fame Alumni and Distinguished Friends Award in Atlanta at the annual Board of Regents Gala. I can think of no one more deserving. Congratulations, Dr. Hobbs.

Dr. Jennifer Allen working to increase menopause training in OB/Gyn residency programs, here and across the country

Like Dr. Hobbs, so many of you work tirelessly to ensure that the education and training we provide at the state’s only public medical school is producing the best possible physicians for Georgia and the rest of the country. Here’s another example: Dr. Jennifer Allen, who directs our OB/Gyn Residency Program, recently conducted a nationwide survey of OB/Gyn residency program directors to determine the need for more menopause training. Did you know that by 2060 there will be around 90 million women in the United States alone, who will be in the post-menopausal range? Yet, most residency programs have little if any curriculum to address how to treat this common condition that causes those signature hot flashes but can also cause symptoms from head to toe — from sleep disturbances to bone loss to depression and anxiety. A whopping 93% of the program directors who responded to Dr. Allen’s survey agreed that needs to change, she recently reported in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society. Dr. Allen, who is certified as a menopause practitioner — one of only four in Augusta and the surrounding area — is also a member of the Education Committee of the International Menopause Society. She tells us that there is already a system in place — a sort of refresher course about menopause that features eight online training modules for practicing physicians. Her plan is to modify and expand those modules to meet resident learner needs and create a standardized national curriculum. Ultimately, her efforts will mean better training for future physicians and better care for our patients. Thank you, Dr. Allen for taking a lead in these important efforts.

MCG’s Anesthesiology Externship Program is helping grow the profession

Speaking of creating first-rate educational experiences for our students and residents, we have recent evidence that our nearly 100-year-old Anesthesiology Externship Program is not only giving our medical students rich experiences in our operating rooms but is also helping grow the specialty. One of only five or six such programs in the country, the externship was originally created in 1938 by the first Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine chair Dr. Perry Volpitto. It was designed then to get medical students to simply fill the need for additional personnel. Today it allows students who are interested in anesthesiology and really any surgical subspecialty, to work nights, weekends and holidays, as paid anesthesia tech. These techs are a critical part of the anesthesia and operating room teams and are usually responsible for sterilizing, cleaning, assembling, calibrating, testing and troubleshooting various pieces of machinery. Students in our externship program also routinely perform airway management, maintain vascular access and help perform rapid transfusions in emergent cases. The benefits of this program are almost countless — for students, building trust and relationships with faculty, developing a sense of belonging to the health care team and professional development. For the department, an engaged and interested workforce and better prepared students applying to anesthesiology residency programs. And now we also know a growing workforce. Fourth-year medical student, and chief anesthesiology extern Farhan Lakhani, along with Dr. Caryl Bailey, director of the anesthesiology clerkship for medical students, and department chair Dr. Steffen Meiler, recently reported in the British Journal of Anesthesia that out of 38 current and former program participants, only 12 – or 32% — were interested in anesthesia as a career before they took part in the program. That number climbed to 21 – or 55% – who chose anesthesia as their specialty after their externship. The program is so successful that other medical schools have asked us to help them replicate it and I know that interest will only grow after this high impact, student-authored article. Thank you all for providing another example of how MCG leads the way, nationally and even internationally, in medical education. 

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month; Dr. Zack Klaassen featured on YouTube channel

Wrapping things up today, I wanted to remind you that our communications office is continuing to produce YouTube videos featuring our faculty experts. Next up is Dr. Zachary Klaassen, Canadian hockey player, urologic oncologist, and director of our urology residency program, who talks to us about the importance of screening for prostate cancer. September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Dr. Klaassen tells us that one in eight men will likely get prostate cancer, with African American men being more likely — closer to one in five being diagnosed and likely having a more aggressive form. But he also reminds us that prostate cancer remains one of the most curable cancers if it is caught and treated early. Thank you, Dr. Klaassen, for sharing your expertise with us all. If you have ideas for future content for these YouTube videos, please always reach out to our Communications Strategist Tim Rausch at

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