Jim Gardner, president and chief executive officer of Northeast Georgia Medical Center, told state legislators of his enthusiasm and support of a new medical school at Tuesday’s Medical Education Study Committee Hearing at the University of Georgia.
"All I would like to share with you this morning ... is how important I think this endeavor is, as a hospital administrator," Gardner said.
One of the key things that medical schools look for when they consider expanding or look for residency sites is the training environment, he said. "We certainly can provide that."
Northeast Georgia Medical Center has a highly complex, multifaceted environment in which prospective physicians could train, Gardner said. "We have a very, very rich training environment."
Rep. Barry Fleming, chairman of the committee, asked Gardner if Northeast
Georgia Medical Center is prepared to financially commit to providing residencies for the new medical college. Gardner said the hospital was studying the idea, but no definite answer had been reached.
"It’s hard right now to make a commitment from a budget perspective on things you don’t totally understand," Gardner said. "Frankly, I look at it as an investment."
Fleming said that financial commitment from hospitals would be important to the committee’s decision on the new college.
"If we’re talking about an unknown, bottomless vessel, I can’t stand here and tell you that we’re going to jump all over this," Gardner said. "But, realistically, hospitals understand that in order to produce physicians, there’s an investment required."
The proposed medical college in Athens will not threaten Brenau’s plans for a medical college only 40 miles up the road, said David Morrison, director of communications and publications at Brenau University.
"There’s such a shortage of physicians in Georgia, and there will be such a shortage of physicians in the state and in the nation over the next generation or two that we probably can’t get too many medical schools," Morrison said.
Despite the proximity of Athens and Gainesville, Morrison said the presence of two medical schools within 40 miles would not be a competition situation, nor is it an anomaly.
"If you go to Houston, Baylor Med is sitting right next door to M.D. Anderson (University of Texas Cancer Center), and that’s sitting right next door to Rice," Morrison said. "It’s not unusual to have a concentration of these things around. Emory and Morehouse are closer together than we are to the University of Georgia, and they’re doing fine."
Right now, Brenau is conducting a study on the feasibility of a medical college at its Gainesville campus.
The Brenau and Northeast Georgia Medical Center joint-study evaluates the feasibility of a medical school on the Brenau Campus, and will be complete by mid-January, Morrison said.
Morrison did not say whether Brenau had received a commitment of a residency program from Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
"I don’t know that we’re that far along yet to where we can talk about (hospital) commitments," Morrison said. "We haven’t even committed to doing a medical school yet."
"Residencies are essential in a medical school program, but it’s too early to tell whether we would need or want to do a residency program with just Northeast Georgia or with another hospital or several hospitals," Morrison said. "It just depends on what you’re going to do, ultimately, and we’re really not that far along yet."