Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Student Ryan Johnson takes a leadership role in establishing network for Black male students at MCG

We talk often about how the main ingredient in MCG’s secret sauce is you, like how when each of you see a need, you do something about it even though you likely are already too busy. As a first-year medical student, Ryan Johnson was the definition of busy. He grew up near spectacular Stone Mountain, with his mom, Linda Johnson, a single parent and strong disciplinarian. He still struggled a bit in high school in DeKalb County, where he had no strong male mentors, but Ryan definitely made it. He graduated from Savannah State University then earned a master’s degree in public health from Georgia State University before he went to work at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis as a clinical research assistant. There, this young man who knew no Black physicians growing up, decided he wanted to be a physician. We are fortunate he decided to become a physician at MCG. Ryan attended pre-matriculation here before he started in the fall of 2019 to help optimally prepare for life as a medical student. He found friends fast among his future classmates, but noticed there was no social network for Black men.

Black Men of the Medical College of Georgia provides inspiration, support to our students

Ryan started one by using a group-messaging app, but as the large need became clear Linda James, assistant dean for student diversity and inclusion, suggested a more defined version and Black Men of the Medical College of Georgia was born. Besides each other, our students found great mentors here in Drs. Kevin Allen, pediatric emergency medicine physician, and orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Uzondu Agochukwu. Dr. Allen is a graduate of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, who completed his pediatric residency and pediatric emergency medicine fellowship with us before joining the faculty in 2018. Talk about an advocate for good, Dr. Allen is co-medical director of our Child Protection Team for the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. He’s also faculty preceptor for Physician’s Power to Protect, a six-week course for medical students on diagnosing and treating child abuse, and serves as a needed expert on the important topic of child abuse for our students, pediatric and emergency medicine residents, as well as PA students and nursing groups. Dr. Agochukwu joined the U.S. Army in 2004, earned an Army Health Professional Scholarship, then graduated from Indiana University School of Medicine in 2007 and went on active duty. Dr. Agochukwu completed his orthopaedic surgery residency at Madigan Healthcare System in Fort Lewis, Washington in 2012, and was deployed to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom. He was honored by the Army for his efforts there. He then worked at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg until coming to us in early 2019. How is that for great mentors?

They’re also working in the community to support future medical students

Now Black Men of the Medical College of Georgia is working with 100 Black Men of Augusta to reach out to young Black men in our community as well to show them a career in medicine is possible. They also are working with 100 Black Men, of which our Dr. Justin Moore, epidemiologist, and Clint Bryant, AU’s director of athletics, are esteemed members, to help with community efforts directed at COVID testing and addressing vaccine hesitancy. The group also wants to work with other schools in the University System of Georgia to mentor Black pre-med students throughout our state. Such an important and needed effort. The Association of American Medical Colleges has identified the lack of Black males in medical school as a major issue plaguing the physician workforce and that the number of Black males enrolled in medical school actually decreased between 1978 and 2014. Enrollment has improved some since and I am certain that with the inspired help of Ryan and his colleagues, we will find more success. Thank you all for your amazing contributions to date and for your commitment to more.

Unite in the Fight against cancer happens next week

You all know a cause worth working for, and anyone whose life has been impacted by cancer is one of them. Like ensuring a physician population that reflects the people we are privileged to serve, this fight affects us all. Unite in the Fight, hosted by our Georgia Cancer Center starting Monday, takes a stand against all kinds of cancer and for the opportunity to raise support to help all patients with areas like research to improve care and programs to provide support. Like everything else these days, the third year of this event is different because there will not be a big 1.5 mile walk together for those who join the fight, but interested individuals are encouraged to select a cancer to fight, its corresponding color and maybe even form a team, then carve out their own 1.5 miles. The Georgia Cancer Center would like to see everyone join in, particularly our students, and already has been working with students James Alin, Camila Albo and Hector Picon to help make this happen. You can also check out videos featuring folks like Dr. Alicia Vinyard, surgical oncologist, talking about breast cancer, on Instagram and Facebook next week. Please learn more here or reach out to Abbie Vaughn, philanthropy and special events coordinator, at abvaughn@augusta.edu.

Dr. Martha Tingen, Georgia Cancer Center honored for cancer disparity work

Nobody does prevention any better than Dr. Martha Tingen, and I am proud to share that she and the Georgia Cancer Center are receiving a Deal of the Year Award from Georgia Bio, which supports growth of the life sciences industry in our state. This particular badge of honor is for her leadership in securing and executing a $3.3 million grant from Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation to help address racial disparities for Blacks living in urban and rural underserved areas of our state. We talked about this study late last year, which is enrolling 600 adults from 20 faith-based sites in regions with some of the poorest health indicators and outcomes. The focus includes improved education coming from local community members along with early screening, including genetic testing when needed, and improved access to cancer specialists, with a special emphasis on cancers of the breast and prostate as well as multiple myeloma. Like Ryan, Dr. Tingen, associate director for cancer prevention, control and population health, has great colleagues in this including Drs. Samantha Sojourner, Anand Jillella, Zachary Klaassen, Stephen Looney, Justin Moore, Priyanka Raval and Marlo Vernon. Thank you all and congratulations yet again.

Drs. Joseph Miano and Xiaochun Long show evidence of the precision of new gene-editing tool

Everything we have talked about today falls into the category of keeping eyes open and interest stoked. So does this. Drs. Joseph Miano and Lin Gan are gene-editing experts who joined us a little more than a year ago from the University of Rochester to help expand use of this emerging technology here. That included establishing a Genome Editing Core, under the direction of Dr. Gan, in the Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, which is going like gangbusters. Dr. Miano and his other longtime collaborator, molecular biologist Dr. Xiaochun Long, both faculty in the Vascular Biology Center and Department of Medicine, have a cool paper in the journal Genome Biology that is just the second to look at the latest gene-editing tool, called prime editing, in a mouse. They did a comparative study using CRISPR and prime editing in the gene Tspan2, which Dr. Long had found was a big player in smooth muscle cell differentiation and likely also a big player in cardiovascular disease. Prime editing creates a single strand edit in the DNA while CRISPR edits both strands of the familiar double helix. Bottom line is that both techniques could turn this gene off, but prime editing appeared to be more precise, producing less “off targeting,” which basically means comparatively no unintended changes, which is good news. Because while most these collateral changes likely won’t be detrimental to health, some could be. Dr. David Liu, chemical biologist and director of the Merkin Institute of Transformative Technologies in Healthcare at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who developed prime editing, is a study coauthor. More to come on this great work in the days ahead. 

99% of our graduates secure a good place to continue their medical education

As I promised last time here, our students continue to soar, and Match Day 2021 though different, was still great. This year 99% of our soon-to-be graduates have secured a great residency training program. They matched in 23 specialties in 35 states; 61% will pursue primary care programs, 31% will remain in Georgia for at least one year of their residency training, with 16% of those staying at our MCG/AU Health residency programs here or at affiliated programs across the state. 28% of those seniors plan to remain in Georgia for all their training. In the regular Match, which excludes urology, ophthalmology and military matches, the 34 of our students who matched here will be in strong programs in anesthesiology, dermatology, emergency medicine, family medicine, surgery, internal medicine, orthopaedics, OB/GYN, otolaryngology, pathology, pediatrics, psychiatry and radiology. Like our students, 25 of our ACGME-accredited training programs did great in the main Match and we will have 192 new residents starting July 1. In addition to congratulating our amazing students, let me also thank their awesome academic leadership including Drs. Doug Miller, Shelley Nuss, Jennifer Tucker, John Francis, LaShon Sturgis, Andria Thomas and Kim Loomer on the student side and Drs. Michael Groves and Michael Hocker on the GME side. Let me thank as well the amazing staff who are essential to this annual rite of passage, including Angie McMurry, Varun Pathi, Curtis Celtrick, Sarah Egan, Candice Henderson, and our many academic and career advisors.

The senseless loss of life

Finally today, we share the grief over the senseless loss of life this week in our state of eight people. The lost included seven women, including six women of Asian descent, one white woman and one white man. The unprovoked attack has put us all on alert, particularly our Asian communities. I have been talking with MCG second-year student Ha-Eun “Christina” Cho, who is co-president of the national Korean American Medical Student Association, this week as well as with some of our faculty and staff, and everyone is rightly horrified. My support and prayers are with them and with everyone who lost a loved one in this tragedy.

Please continue to take good care out there, wear a mask and get vaccinated.

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