April 5, 2024

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

New Regional Clinical Campus Admissions Pathway aims to help provide physicians where Georgia needs them most

For the last almost two decades, our network of regional clinical campuses has been a key part of our work to address Georgia’s growing physician shortage, particularly in the most underserved areas. As a short history lesson: We opened our first regional clinical campus in Albany in 2005. Two years later we announced the Southeast Campus in Savannah/Brunswick. Then the Northwest Campus in Rome (now also in Dalton) opened in 2013. Without the whole state of Georgia serving as our campus and the unique clinical experiences our educational and hospital partners across the state offer, we simply could not educate the number of students we do. These partners, and all of our community clinical faculty, are key to MCG’s mission of creating more physicians for Georgia — and it’s something they do well. The hundreds of students who study at our regional campuses — whether it be for one or two rotations or as a residential student who lives and learns in these close-knit communities for the entirety of their clinical education — always rave about the rich, one-on-one experiences they get with faculty physicians there. They often get to deliver dozens of babies or step in to make the first incision and/or close during surgeries. These experiences pay off. Just like students who study exclusively at our main campuses in Augusta and Athens, students who go to regional campuses routinely match in competitive specialties at top-tier residency programs, like those at Harvard and Vanderbilt — just two examples from this year’s Match. And in many cases, we’ve seen students who spent their clinical years at a regional campus, go somewhere else to complete their residencies and then return to the Albany, Savannah/Brunswick and Rome/Dalton areas to practice. We want and need to do more of this.

Students who demonstrate a passion for working in underserved areas will be given admissions preference

Here’s one way we are. Starting with this 2024-25 application cycle, prospective medical students who demonstrate a passion for health care in underserved areas and are committed to attending either the Northwest or the Southwest Regional Clinical Campus will be given admissions preference by the MCG Admissions Committee. We are calling it the MCG Regional Campus Clinical Admissions Pathway, but I am more apt to call it the Braun Plan, because it was the brainchild of our amazing senior associate dean for admissions, 2004 MCG grad and Liberty County native, Dr. Kelli Braun. Under this new plan, accepted students will start here on the Augusta Campus for their pre-clerkship phase and then transfer to their designated regional clinical campus for the clerkship and enrichment phases of the curriculum — and their acceptance is contingent on their attendance at these campuses. This new pathway is open to all interested MCG applicants and follows the Regular Decision Program timeline. Students who are invited for interviews through this pathway will complete multiple mini interviews, per our regular admissions protocol, but will have an additional interview with their designated clinical campus’ leadership. We believe that identifying this “cohort” of students at admission will give them the chance, early and often, to get to know the people and places that make these regional campuses so special and deepen the connection they have to the communities they will hopefully one day serve. My thanks certainly go to Dr. Braun and her team, as well as Northwest Campus Dean, Dr. Paul Brock, Campus Assistant Dean Dr. Dixon Freeman; and Southwest Campus Dean, Dr. Doug Patten and Campus Assistant Dean Dr. Koosh Desai. Getting this program off the ground in such a short time was nothing short of a Herculean effort.

Dr. Koosh Desai and Georgia CORE team are helping reduce colon cancer rates in Georgia

Speaking of Dr. Desai. He’s one of those great examples we were talking about earlier – of students who are educated at a regional clinical campus and then return there to practice. This Columbus native spent his clinical years at the Southwest Campus, graduated from MCG in 2016, came back to Augusta to complete his internal medicine residency at Wellstar MCG Health and then, in short order, returned to Albany to serve MCG students and work as an internist at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. Besides his passion for educating the next generation, he is deeply committed to ensuring that zip code doesn’t determine access to great health care. Even as a resident in 2018, he co-founded the Georgia Colon Cancer Prevention Project and partnered with Federally Qualified Health Centers throughout Georgia to train health care providers on screening alternatives for colorectal cancers after learning that only about 30% of eligible patients at these FQHCs were being screened, likely due to financial reasons. He worked to identify an affordable alternative to colonoscopy, which he found in the FIT test, which can detect early signs of cancer in the stool. He was able to offer those tests to Georgia FQHCs for around $7 each and increase screening rates in the process. He’s continued similar work since and now serves as medical director for the Georgia Colorectal Cancer Control Program, a partnership between Georgia CORE, the Georgia Cancer Center and Horizons Community Solutions. This five-year, CDC-funded program began in July 2020 and allows access to free colorectal cancer screenings to people in Southeast and Southwest Georgia. Week after next, Dr. Desai will get the chance talk about the successes this program has seen, particularly in Southeast Georgia. Not to spoil all the good news, but with the help of our good friend Jennie Wren Denmark, CEO of East Georgia Healthcare Center in Swainsboro, and her team, what started in 2020 with four clinics offering screenings has expanded to nine, with plans to add two more this year. They’ve screened 6,700 people and 77 precancerous colonic growths have been removed. Truly outstanding. Please join them and hear more, April 16 at noon at East Georgia Healthcare Center. Thank you all for your devotion to this important work.

Wellstar MCG Health breaks ground for new Columbia County Hospital

Dr. Desai’s work with FQHCs in Georgia is a great example of bringing quality health care to people where they are and where they need it most. We got another example of that this week when we ceremoniously broke ground for the new Wellstar MCG Health medical center and medical office building in Columbia County. We were honored to be joined by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and First Lady, Marty Kemp; University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue; AU President Brooks Keel; Doug Duncan, chairman of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners; Wellstar President and CEO Candice Saunders; and now-PERMANENT hospital president at Wellstar MCG Health, Ralph Turner. This new facility, located just off I-20 at Exit 190 in Grovetown, has been a long time coming, at least since 2012. Columbia County is currently the most populous county in Georgia without a full-service hospital. When this facility is complete it will house 100 patient beds, operating rooms, diagnostic services, an emergency room that also serves as a Level II trauma center, and a neighboring 90,000-square-foot medical office building. While Columbia County is not all rural, parts of it certainly are, and this new facility will also offer closer care for people in surrounding counties. It will also serve as another training site for MCG students, residents and fellows. Construction should be completed in 2026, if not sooner.

Athens Alumni reception brings out record numbers of MCG supporters

I would be remiss today not to mention the excellent turnout we had at our recent Annual Alumni Reception in Athens. This great gathering is always so graciously hosted by 1982 grad, Dr. Mark Ellison and his wife Betsy, at their beautiful home. This year’s event was sponsored by Synovus and we were joined that night by Vice President Robert Hardell and Division CEO Jody Patton. Dr. Ellison let me know that we had record attendance this year, with over 80 guests. The next day, we had another opportunity to join more of our alums at a regional luncheon at the Chattahoochee Country Club. It was a treat to be hosted by Dr. Wiley Black, ’61, and his wife Judy, and joined by other supporters of MCG like Dr. Alan Atwood, ’84, and his wife Dr. Nancy Stead Atwood, and 1971 graduate Dr. John Darden, who I’m told helped us rally the troops for this event. One of my favorite things to do as dean is getting out on the road and meeting our amazing alumni. It’s a pleasure to update them on current happenings at their medical school and it gives me a great sense of pride to hear about the indelible impact they have made on the communities they have served. They truly define the legacy of this medical school.

Register now for Alumni Weekend

I look forward to more of that at this year’s Alumni Weekend, planned for April 25-28. Things will kick off Thursday, April 25 with our Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society Induction Ceremony and continue Friday with the Dean’s Reception and Alumni Association Banquet at the Augusta Marriott. There will be tours of the beautiful Harrison Education Commons throughout the day Saturday and that night will be capped off by MCG Class Reunion Dinners and an Alumni Afterparty. The always poignant Alumni Memorial Service will end the weekend on Sunday, April 28 at 10:30 in the Harrison Commons. Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list of events, but you can find that list and register for events here. I hope you’ll join us then.

My best to you all,

Dean Hess Signature

David C. Hess, MD

Dean, Medical College of Georgia

Upcoming Events

Apr 19 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

Apr 19 – MCG Research Day, 4-6pm, J. Harold Harrison, MD Education Commons 1120-D

Apr 26-28 – MCG Alumni Weekend, https://www.augusta.edu/alumniweekend/

May 9 – MCG Hooding Ceremony, 2pm, James Brown Arena

May 23 – MCG Faculty Awards Ceremony, 5pm, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium