There are watershed moments in the lives of medical schools. They don’t come often but when they do, we want to position ourselves to make the most of the opportunities and to take MCG to the next level.
I don’t think I am overstating when I say that identifying a partner committed to excellent patient care, to medical education and to Georgia to manage our health system is one of those watershed events and transformative moments for the Medical College of Georgia.
Together MCG and its health system comprise Georgia’s only public academic medical center, a place of hope and life-sustaining service, where medical students, residents and fellows learn, and where scientific discoveries take their first steps into improving the lives of people. This is important work and our health system as currently configured has struggled fiscally and operationally for years now to do their part. We had to find a better way. Our state, its citizens and our nearly 200-year-old medical school deserve no less.
And, I believe we have found our way. Many of you likely know by now that near the end of December 2022, the University System of Georgia in partnership with Augusta University, AU Health and our medical school announced plans for Georgia-based Wellstar Health System to assume management of our health system. We believe that structure will be fully operational by July 1, the beginning of our fiscal year.
Under the new partnership, MCG also will have an increased academic association with Wellstar that, with the approval of our accrediting body, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, will enable establishment of a clinical campus in Atlanta. Please know that our students have been going to Wellstar’s flagship hospital, Wellstar Kennestone in Marietta, for nearly eight years now to do one or more of their clinical rotations. At this moment, we already have 17 third-year students at Wellstar Kennestone where they will be able to complete all their clinical rotations if they choose to. With the clinical campus our junior and senior students will live and learn in the Atlanta area and make important life choices about what and where they will practice.
I hope you know how important ensuring great medical care in more rural regions of our state is to MCG’s mission and purpose and to me personally. I can assure you that this partnership and an expanded presence in Atlanta will only enhance and expedite that mission by enabling us to more rapidly expand to 300 students per class — we are at 264 students per class at this moment — and ideally to eventually grow beyond 300 to better serve a state that regularly ranks among the nation’s 10 most populous. In fact, Wellstar’s nine-hospital system includes facilities in Austell, Douglasville, Hiram, Griffin, Jackson and LaGrange, all smaller communities in our beautiful state.
Wellstar’s leadership also includes the kind of individuals I believe you will want affiliated with your medical school, including Candice Saunders, president and CEO, who started her career as a critical care nurse and has worked with Wellstar for 16 years. Her work at the bedside drives her decisions today to provide excellent patient care and take great care of employees as well, because nothing is possible without their satisfaction and success. Executive Vice President Hank Capps, MD, is a family medicine physician who discovered his natural aptitude for IT a little later in life when he helped implement an electronic medical record, or EMR, system. He quickly established himself as a leader in optimizing technology to benefit patients, including innovative wellness initiatives. Our 1999 graduate, Dr. James Hornsby, another family medicine physician, who once led the nonprofit Good Samaritan Health Center of Cobb in Marietta, Georgia, and has helped take care of citizens around the world, exemplifies the knowledgeable and approachable Board of Trustees.
And there’s more. Our governor, chancellor and legislature included in this year’s state budget $105 million for a new EMR system. The EMR was developed in this country in 1972, and getting the right system is much like selecting a good partner for our health system. Because the right system is also essential to the optimal functioning of almost everything we do for patients from scheduling appointments, to providing ready access to their own medical information through a patient portal, even to helping ensure that their bills are timely and accurate. It enables our own faculty with different expertise to immediately and easily consult about a patient. With the right system, we can do the same with referring physicians across the state and beyond. It enables clinical research to find both what is working best and what might work better for patients by readily enabling searches for specific groups of patients, like individuals with breast cancer, their treatment course and outcome. It’s highly doubtful that an invaluable tool like the EMR will ever go away, it will only be further refined, and a new system will enable our medical students, residents and fellows to learn today on the most advanced system out there.
As I hope you can see, 2023 has gotten off to an outstanding start for your medical school and I am eternally grateful to so many individuals who stood strongly with us to makes these transformative changes happen.
At the top of the list are Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and University System of Georgia Chancellor (and former governor) Sonny Purdue. I am thankful for their insight and commitment. Two other longtime servants of our state, Speaker of the House Jon Burns (District 159, which includes Screven County and portions of Effingham and Bulloch counties) and House of Representatives Member Butch Parrish (District 158, which includes Emanuel, Candler, Jenkins and portions of Bulloch counties), were invaluable in moving these key initiatives and MCG forward. I also, of course, want to thank the leadership of Augusta University, particularly President Brooks Keel and EVP Russell Keen, for helping enable these important successes.
I thank each of you as well for supporting Georgia’s only public medical school. As I say so often because it is true: We could not and would not want to do this without each of you.
All my best,
David C. Hess, MD
Dean, Medical College of Georgia
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs
and Integration, Augusta University
Presidential Distinguished Chair