Athens and Albany medical campuses on target for 2010, accrediting body says
Resources are adequate for Augusta University School of Medicine to proceed with a four-year campus in Athens in partnership with the University of Georgia and a two-year residential clinical campus in Southwest Georgia, the accrediting body for U.S. medical schools has confirmed.
"This is continued good news about steady progress at both campuses," School of Medicine Dean Doug Miller said about the Liaison Committee on Medical Education announcement. "We believe the LCME has pronounced both projects on track according to the timeline we have laid out."
The first class of 40 freshman students will start classes at the Interim Medical Partnership Building on Williams Street in Athens, one block from the main UGA Campus, in August 2010, says Dr. Barbara Schuster, campus dean of the AU/UGA Medical Partnership. The LCME will receive a follow-up report at that time. The AU School of Medicine has already accepted 60 students out of a class of 230 for next fall semester; 190 will be in Augusta. Inaugural students for the Athens campus will be assigned shortly.
AU's first clinical campus, based at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, opened in 2005 and is on target to become a residential clinical campus in July 2010, housing students during their clinical- intensive third and fourth years of medical school. An LCME visit Dec. 2-3 will assess faculty and facilities to pave the way for its residential status. "Some of our most popular teaching sites in the state are in the Southwest region. The buzz is very positive from the students," said Dr. Linda Boyd, associate dean for regional campus coordination. The initial enrollment of eight to 10 students likely will grow to 40 in coming years.
Last year over 200 AU medical students completed one or more clinical rotations in Southwest Georgia, working with physicians for four to six weeks per rotation in specialties including family medicine, pediatrics, surgery and obstetrics-gynecology. Residential campus status will enable students to spend a lot more time in a medically underserved area of the state, said Dr. Iqbal Khan, assistant dean of the campus which opened in 2005. "The medical community on our campus enjoys participating in student education and does an outstanding job educating future doctors. As Dr. Boyd says, there is a lot of enthusiasm here among the medical community and students alike. "
"Phoebe is committed to walking lockstep with AU to provide the support necessary to ensure a first-class training environment that will attract the best and brightest AU students," added Dr. Doug Patten, senior vice president of medical affairs at Phoebe. "We see this as a key component of our strategy to ensure the supply of physicians for the future needs of Southwest Georgia." A total of 12 hospitals from cities including Tifton, Moultrie and Columbus have signed on as clinical facilities for that part of the state.
In Athens, where 19 faculty are on board and more recruitment is underway, the focus is on fine-tuning the curriculum and generating enthusiasm to participate in medical education among area physicians and hospitals in Northeast Georgia. A recent open house at the new medical school building enabled Athens Regional Hospital and St. Mary's Hospital to spread the word to about 150 community physicians and hospital leaders; a few days later about 100 primary care physicians and colleagues toured the campus facility. On a recent visit to nearby Gainesville, Northeast Georgia Health System leadership also was updated on the medical campus developments. "You can definitely feel people getting much more excited," Dr. Schuster said
The campuses are part of an overall plan to increase the AU School of Medicine's class size from 190 to 300 students by 2020 to help meet Georgia's need for physicians, according to Dean Miller, who also serves as AU's senior vice president for health affairs. Georgia ranks ninth in the nation in both population and population growth, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and ninth as well for physicians retained in the state after public undergraduate medical education. The state currently ranks 40th in the number of physicians per capita, according to the American Medical Association.
The statewide plan includes a second clinical campus, Southeast Georgia Clinical Campus based at St. Joseph's/Candler Health System in Savannah, which is slated for residential campus designation in coming years, Dr. Boyd said. The medical school class size will grow from 190 to 240 in Augusta and 40 to 60 in Athens. Facilities to accommodate the larger class in Augusta are under design.