May 17, 2024

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

New hires at Savannah Campus keep the momentum going

We are just two short months away from welcoming our first class of 40 students at MCG Savannah. Founding Campus Dean, Dr. Elizabeth Gray, Campus Assistant Dean for Pre-Clerkship, Dr. Folami Powell, as well as their incredible support staff, Malinda Moore and Holly Murphy, and our great team here in Academic Affairs, have been working at lightning speed to get that campus ready for those first students to arrive for orientation the week of July 22. There’s no slowing down. We are hiring more and more critical faculty down that way. Recent hires include people like Dr. John Rowlett, the new Campus Assistant Dean for Clerkship Curriculum and Dr. Hunter Faircloth, the new Campus Assistant Dean for Experiential Learning. Dr. Rowlett is no stranger to us. This medical director of Pediatric Hospital Medicine/Advanced Pediatric Specialists at our great teaching partner St. Joseph’s/Candler, has been the site director for pediatrics, for third- and fourth-year students at our Southeast Regional Clinical Campus since January of 2023. In this new and expanded role, he’ll help us recruit more people like him and help us find clinical teaching sites for students studying at the four-year campus. Dr. Faircloth was another natural choice for the Savannah leadership team. This 2015 MCG alum worked with our Augusta students, training them in medical simulations, bedside procedures and ultrasound while he completed his emergency medicine residency here. He joined St. Joe’s/Candler in 2023 and has been working with our students at the regional clinical campus as a preceptor in their procedural course ever since. Welcome to these new roles, Drs. Rowlett and Faircloth. I know your knowledge of the Savannah medical community and of medical education will be extremely valuable as we grow MCG.

This new four-year campus wouldn’t be possible without great help from the Governor, the Georgia Legislature and the University System of Georgia

I would be remiss here not to thank the members of the Georgia General Assembly that were instrumental in helping us get the funding to expand our educational presence in Savannah. None of it would have been possible without the support of people like Senator Ben Watson, who represents District 1 including portions of Chatham and Liberty Counties and all of Bryan County – all areas that our Southeast Regional Clinical Campus serves now. Dr. Watson is a 1985 MCG alum and has served the Savannah area since 1988 as an internist with a specialty in geriatrics. In fact, the first time I met him, he was reading a patient’s EKG. Dr. Watson has three sons, one graduated from MCG and will be practicing Urology in Savannah next year. Our endless thanks also go to Rep. Butch Parrish of Swainsboro, who has always been in our medical school’s corner, and serves as chairman of the House Rules Committee; Speaker of the House Jon Burns, a champion for improving access to health care in Georgia, particularly in underserved areas; Senator Blake Tillery, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee; and University System of Georgia Chancellor Dr. Sonny Perdue, who helped pave the way for this critical continued growth of our medical school.

Drs. Marlo Vernon and Chad Ray help establish Food Farmacy for expectant and new mothers

The important work we do here truly inspires me, even on the hard days. Here’s another example: Drs. Chad Ray, and Marlo Vernon have made it their personal mission to help change Georgia’s abysmal maternal and fetal mortality rates. They recently partnered with Augusta Locally Grown, which, as the name implies, makes locally grown produce available for sale all across the community. The result is a Food Farmacy (pun intended) Program that prescribes these local fruits and vegetables to expectant and recent mothers, especially those with conditions that put them at higher risk of pregnancy complications. In exchange for each “prescription” the women complete educational modules about health risks facing them and their babies. They also meet with a nutritionist and a nurse at least twice a month, either in person or online, and receive basic health checks, like those for blood pressure and weight. Free weekly in-person cooking classes to help them learn how best to prepare these healthy foods are also an option. The program is also partnering with the Golden Harvest Food Bank to make sure these future and new mothers know how to sign up for assistance through programs like Georgia’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Women, Infants and Children, which can help ensure they continue to have access to nutritious food and the health benefits that come with it. Drs. Ray and Vernon had great help from fourth-year medical student Lily Rubin, who essentially wrote the entire health education component of the program, and Jennifer Plueger, the Community Project Coordinator for our Georgia Prevention Institute. Great going. Thank you all for your dedication to these women and their children.

Students, faculty recognized with awards at Hooding

Here’s more inspiration. One of the many great and gratifying days I have as dean is when I get to watch our graduating medical students cross across the stage at our Hooding Ceremony and officially take on the mantle of physician. We got to watch as nearly 250 of them officially joined our profession last week. It’s always a highlight of the ceremony to hear who graduating students both here in Augusta and in Athens have chosen to receive the Physician’s Physician Award. I think of this award as the most prestigious one we give out at the ceremony, because our students decide who among their classmates demonstrates the greatest aptitude for and devotion to the profession of medicine – in other words, who they would most likely seek out as a personal physician. This year’s recipients are, from the Augusta Campus, Dr. Sydney Erickson, who is headed to Emory to pursue medicine-psychiatry; and from Athens, Dr. Shant Ohanian, who also matched at Emory, but in family medicine.

We also take the opportunity during Hooding to give the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Awards, which are again voted on by the graduating class, and given to a student and faculty member from each four-year campus who best embodies outstanding compassion in the delivery of care, respect for patients, their families, and healthcare colleagues, as well as demonstrated clinical excellence. I am humbled to have been a past recipient. This year’s awardees are, from Augusta, Dr. Rishab Chawla who is headed to a pediatric psychiatry residency at the University of Texas, and Dr. Chris Watson, a pediatric intensivist who also serves as our assistant dean for student affairs, guiding our fourth-year class through the enrichment phase of their education. From Athens, winners were Dr. Tahmina Mohiuddin, who matched at Baylor in pediatrics, and Dr. Ellen House, a psychiatrist and often-honored educator and student advisor.

My congratulations to all of you. We can’t wait to see what you continue to accomplish in residency and beyond.

Dr. Keel gives final State of the University Address

It was also an honor this week to be there as President Keel gave his final State of the University Address. He’s had an incredible nine-year tenure here at Augusta University and has accomplished, and frankly helped the medical school accomplish, many great things. This year alone he’s helped ensure we received $4.7 million in Georgia’s FY25 State Budget to grow our new Savannah Campus; helped shepherd the hospital and medical school through our partnership with Wellstar, which included, among other things, renaming the health system Wellstar MCG Health and ensuring a new hospital and medical office building are being built in Columbia County; and continued the university’s investment in research growth with the always-on-our-mind-goal of moving into the top 60 medical schools in NIH funding. Thank you for your leadership, Dr. Keel. We wish you and your wife and co-author, Dr. Tammie Schalue, the best in this next chapter.

Make plans to join us next Thursday as we recognize Faculty Senate Award winners

As we close today, I wanted to remind you to join me next Thursday, May 23, at our annual Faculty Senate Awards Ceremony from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Lee Auditorium. It’s always a great opportunity to celebrate you, our amazing colleagues, with these well-deserved accolades. These awards are doubly special because winners are nominated for and voted on by their peers — their fellow faculty.  Sound familiar? Some are a surprise to the recipient, so we’ll have more on the winners in the next Dean’s Diary.

My best to you all,

Dean Hess Signature

David C. Hess, MD

Dean, Medical College of Georgia

Upcoming Events

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

June 21 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium