November 3, 2023

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Senate Study Committee on Rural Medical Personnel Recruitment meets on campus

One of the many meaningful things I get to do as dean of your medical school is update the decision makers in our state, our legislators and other government officials, about what is happening at MCG. I got the opportunity to do that twice last week. Last Tuesday, the university’s Office of Government Relations hosted the Senate Study Committee on Rural Medical Personnel Recruitment here on our campus. This five-member Senate Study Committee was just established in September and works to address the staffing and recruitment challenges that hospitals in rural communities face and find legislative solutions for these communities and the patients they serve. They heard from a variety of people, including representatives from the Georgia Society of Anesthesiologists, Georgia Hospital Association, Georgia Association of Nurse Anesthetists, Piedmont Healthcare and faculty and leadership from the AU Colleges of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences. For my part, I was there to update them on our 3+ Primary Care Pathway Program and its important mission of putting more physicians in the places our state needs them most. You’ll remember that we just graduated our first cohort of Peach State Scholars in May and we inducted our largest cohort of them to date in August. All told, we are currently educating more than two dozen — some in graduate medical education programs here and some still in their final two years of medical school — future physicians for rural and underserved Georgia, with even more to come.

House Rural Development Council hears from MCG and Wellstar MCG Health experts on important issues

On Wednesday, I drove the hour-and-a-half south to Statesboro, to the main campus for our newest partners in medical education — Georgia Southern University, where they were hosting the Georgia House Rural Development Council. This 15-member council of lawmakers was formed back in 2017 to hear about what challenges rural Georgia faces, and what the Georgia General Assembly can do to address them. With me, this time, were Dr. Chadburn Ray, our associate dean for primary care and community engagement and Lauren Hopkins, the associate vice president for virtual care and community engagement at Wellstar MCG Health, who both spoke about the efforts of our Center for Telehealth to use telemedicine technology to connect underserved populations to the clinical and research strengths of our academic medical center. This is a win-win for everyone involved — patients get better care, MCG and Wellstar MCG Health are able to strengthen our statewide presence and rural hospitals can remain financially viable. 24% of Georgia’s rural hospitals have joined our Rural Virtual Care Network, with more hospitals and more services to come. I was also able to introduce this group to Dr. Elizabeth Gray, founding dean of the Augusta University/Medical College of Georgia-Georgia Southern Partnership campus in Savannah and update them, as well, on our progress with our 3+ Primary Care Pathway.

Another important and common theme in both of these meetings was a meaningful discussion about our state’s shortage of GME slots — Georgia ranks 40th in the nation in residents per capita. These slots are crucial to helping alleviate our state’s physician shortage because we know that physicians are more likely to practice where they train. As the state’s only public medical school, that is an issue I hope we can help address soon. My thanks to our Office of Government Relations, specifically Margie Miller, vice president of government relations, Ashton Blackwood, director of state government relations, and Luke Ray, assistant director of state government relations, for their work to get us in front of these important policy makers.

Second-year student Alvaro Cortez named student liaison for American Academy of Family Physicians

Someone who knows firsthand the importance of access to health care for rural and underserved areas of Georgia is second-year student Alvaro Cortez. You may know him as a member of our Instagram-popular MCG Med Squad, who are documenting their four years at MCG on social media. What you may not know, though, is that Alvaro is from rural Chatsworth, Georgia, which is kind of near Dalton (one of the homebases for our Northwest Campus) and has a population of a little under 5,000. He says he grew up seeing how a lack of health care access can affect communities, especially minority populations. As the son of Mexican immigrants and a first-generation medical student, he also sees the need for more Hispanic and Latino physicians who can speak Spanish and relate better to that patient population — only 6% of US physicians identify as Hispanic/Latino. There is simply a need for more representation from this group in medicine, specifically in frontline primary care providers. I’m happy to tell you that Alvaro is going to be an important part of addressing this need. He was recently selected by the American Academy of Family Physicians as the student liaison for the Latino Medical Student Association. In this position, which is appointed by the AAFP Board of Directors, he will work to connect medical student members of the AAFP with LMSA activities and initiatives. He also will have the opportunity to develop leadership skills and work with other student leaders to guide the national Family Medicine Interest Group Network. And coming full circle, Alvaro is actually going to start his clerkship year in January in Dalton and hopes to one day practice as a family medicine physician in his home state. Thank you for your example and congratulations, Alvaro.

Several students present at National Committee for Quality Assurance

I know I say it all the time, but our students never cease to amaze. Here’s another example. Five of Alvaro’s classmates, second-year students, Zhidong “Richard” Wang, Claire Gallion, Pravin Vikram, Vishaal Motla and Nivan Laksham, along with their physician mentor, Dr. Janis Coffin, from our Department of Family and Community Medicine, were recently invited to speak at the National Committee for Quality Assurance Health Innovation Summit, which hosts health care industry leaders from throughout the country. Their presentation, which they called “Transforming Academic Healthcare – Learners Can Drive Change,” centered around MCG’s student-driven Value Based Care Competition. As many of you well know, value-based health care is a reimbursement model that focuses on delivering better quality of care to patients at a lower cost — providers are reimbursed based on how well they improve patient outcomes, reduce the effects and incidence of chronic diseases and essentially help patients live healthier lives. During the “competition” teams of medical students analyze a case study of a patient and their interaction with the health care system, then they identify a “value deficit” from the case, maybe a missed prevention opportunity or an unnecessary service for example, and then come up with an innovative solution to mitigate and solve the issue. These competitions are hosted here at MCG and at other medical schools nationwide. The national competition has even been hosted by, and won by, I might add, our medical school. Dr. Coffin tells us the students were extremely well received at the summit and many people from different health care and academic institutions approached them with more questions about how learners can help improve health care. Thank you all for representing your medical school so well on the national stage. And thank you for helping us all understand that our students play a key role in making sure we are all best prepared to serve our current and future patients.

Students at AU/UGA Medical Partnership present at 13th annual Research Symposium

In keeping with the theme of the outstanding students we are privileged to educate here, I wanted to congratulate the students at our AU/UGA Medical Partnership in Athens for presenting their Medical Scholars Program research, which is typically done over 10 weeks between their first and second year of medical school, at the campus’ annual Research Symposium last week. The event, in its 13th year, was split into three sessions — oral presentations, poster presentations and elevator pitches — and awards were given for the top submissions in the latter two categories. Congratulations to Tajah Damm, Alaina Moore, Constance Sullivan and Jessica Vissicchio for their award-winning elevator pitches; and to Firdous Khan, who won first place for her poster presentation, and Krithika Nayudu and Kaitlin Higgins Pyrz, who tied for second. Some interesting stats about this year’s MSP — students did research at 12 institutions across nine states and one international location (the Czech Republic) and the specialties represented ran the gamut from cardiology, dermatology, neurology, orthopaedic medicine, psychiatry, critical care, community health and more.

Great work, you all. I always find it both invigorating and inspiring to see our medical students so interested in research and to hear about the interesting work of these future physicians and physician/scientists.

All my best to you,

Dean Hess Signature

David C. Hess, MD

Dean, Medical College of Georgia

Upcoming Events

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

Dec 1 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium