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New medical campus won’t affect Brenau’s plans

Georgia Medical College to open UGA site in 2010

POSTED: February 13, 2009 12:05 a.m.

The Medical College of Georgia received state permission this week to create a satellite campus at the University of Georgia, with the Athens medical school set to open in fall 2010.

The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia approved a memorandum of understanding Tuesday that formalized the partnership between MCG and UGA.

The arrangement is not expected to affect Brenau University’s proposal to start a separate medical school in Gainesville.

"We’re still studying it," Brenau spokesman David Morrison said. "The concept is very much alive, and we’ve said all along that what happens in Athens will have no bearing on it."

Both projects have the same goal: to increase the number of physicians practicing in Georgia.

"There’s such a shortage of physicians in this state, you could have two new medical schools and still not meet the demand," Morrison said. "It’s really not competitive at all."

Dr. Sam Richwine, a Gainesville plastic surgeon who graduated from MCG, said the physician community has not been able to keep up with Georgia’s population growth.

"We are way behind the curve, if you look at our ratio of doctors per capita," he said. "Even with the midlevel providers (nurse practitioners and physician assistants), there’s still going to be a need for more physicians, especially as the baby boomers reach retirement age."

Morrison said the idea of creating a medical school in Gainesville will require a lot more study, and officials have not set a timeline for taking action.

"In the current economic climate, starting a medical school from scratch will be difficult," he said.

By contrast, establishing a medical school in Athens will be comparatively easy for MCG. Administration and curriculum can be modeled after MCG’s original school in Augusta. And the program already has found a home.

"We have a wonderful old building, a former mill facility right next to the main (UGA) campus," MCG president Dr. Daniel Rahn said. "It’s been leased and is under renovation, and it will be ready in time for opening."

Rahn said the accrediting body for medical schools is scheduled to visit the site in April. If it approves the facility, MCG can start accepting applications for the Athens school this fall.

Forty slots will be available for the 2010 school year, in addition to the 190 medical students enrolled at MCG’s Augusta campus. Rahn hopes the college eventually will be able to expand the program and take more students.

The aspiring doctors will spend their first two years mostly on classroom work, and will do clinical rotations in the latter half of the program.

"Their rotations will be predominantly in the Athens and Gainesville areas," said Rahn. "Clerkships are being developed at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, Athens Regional Medical Center and St. Mary’s Hospital."

Jim Gardner, president of Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said the Gainesville hospital already offers clerkships to a number of MCG students from the Augusta campus. With a campus in Athens, it will be able to work with more students.

"The biggest impact (of the new medical school) will be expansion of our undergraduate medical education," he said.

But NGMC officials are struggling with a major decision: whether to train doctors who’ve already graduated from medical school and need to serve their residencies.

"Graduate medical education is much more complicated," Gardner said. "We’ve just completed a feasibility study with the two Athens hospitals, and we found that GME would cost us $125,000 per year per student, subsidized by the hospitals."

Gardner said it doesn’t matter to him whether the medical school is located in Gainesville or Athens, or both.

"We can have GME relationships with multiple medical schools," he said. "The big question is whether or not we want to do GME. It will require a cultural shift from being a community hospital to being a teaching hospital."

Gardner said if a medical school is created in Gainesville, the hospital will partner with it to provide clinical opportunities. "But we would not be involved in developing the medical school," he said.

Since MCG’s Athens campus won’t graduate its first doctors until 2014, Gardner said the hospital still has time to study the GME issue. "We probably won’t make a decision for a couple of years," he said.

One advantage of having physician residencies in Gainesville is that doctors tend to settle in the same area where they get their training. Gardner said any measure that increases the pool of available doctors would be welcome.

"Physician recruitment is always a challenge," he said. "We applaud both MCG and UGA in this effort."



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