Dedication marks inaugural day of classes of AU/UGA Medical Partnership
Forty aspiring physicians began their education in Athens Aug. 9 as the inaugural class of the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership.
"This was a pretty clear decision for me when you look at the per capita number of doctors (in Georgia)," said Governor Sonny Perdue, who gave the keynote address at a dedication ceremony to mark the historic partnership. "The fact is that we were importing medical talent not only from around the nation, but from around the world, to serve our citizens in Georgia. And while we love that people like to come to our state, we felt like we needed to grow more of our own."
The inaugural class of the four-year medical education program consists of 40 AU students who will study basic science and clinical skills in a program that mirrors the curriculum of the Augusta campus. Like other speakers at the dedication ceremony, University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll B. Davis Jr. praised Perdue and the General Assembly for supporting the expansion of public medical education in Georgia.
"It's important to note that they did this in the midst of this economic downturn," Davis said. "Their commitment expanding medical education and providing more doctors for the people of the state has not wavered."
AU President Dr. Ricardo Azziz and UGA President Michael F. Adams both emphasized how the partnership leverages the strengths of the state's only public medical school and its largest and most comprehensive research university.
"Only through collaboration will we succeed in addressing the growing health needs of our state, our nation, and our world," Azziz said. "Only through collaboration will we generate the cutting edge discoveries that will transform the way we care for our people."
"It has taken a lot of people coming together to make this possible," Adams said. "The development of a health sciences campus and the admission of the first class of medical students have been among the most important developments, I believe, in my time here at the university."
AU/UGA Medical Partnership student Justin Brooten of Atlanta addressed the audience at the dedication ceremony on behalf of students and noted that members of the inaugural class have studied in numerous fields, including biology, languages, economics and psychology, and have wide-ranging medical interests as well. "One word which characterizes our shared pursuit," he said, "is passion - a passion to learn, a passion to care, and a passion to contribute."
He added that the partnership will increase opportunities for students to engage in interdisciplinary studies and that the smaller class sizes in Athens will facilitate student/faculty interaction.
The partnership is 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 the need for physicians in a state that ranks in the top 10 in both population and population growth, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"There are counties in Georgia that don't have any physicians at all, and those shortages need to be addressed," said Dr. Douglas Miller, dean of the AU School of Medicine and AU senior vice president for health affairs. "A public university and a partnership such as this is ideally positioned to lead a response to health care disparities."
The students will be educated in the Interim Medical Partnership Building, a historic building that was originally constructed in 1857 as the Athens Cotton and Wool Factory and has since been renovated to provide a state-of-the-art learning environment. In 2012, the partnership is scheduled to move to a 58-acre campus in Athens currently occupied by the Navy Supply Corps School. The new campus will be known as the UGA Health Sciences Campus and will house the UGA College of Public Health and other health-related programs.
"UGA will become a much stronger research university with the inclusion of medical education," said UGA Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Jere Morehead, "and today's dedication of the Interim Medical Partnership Building is a precursor of greater things that will come in improving health care for the people of Georgia."
The first graduates of the partnership will graduate in 2014 and can begin practicing, depending on the chosen specialty, in 2017 after completion of postgraduate education. By 2020, the partnership is expected to educate 60 students per year in Athens, for a total of 240 students for the four-year program. In addition to helping educate more physicians, the AU/UGA Medical Partnership opens up new possibilities for collaborative research into diseases that disproportionately affect Georgians, such as diabetes, obesity and stroke.
"We have been given the opportunity to influence the health of the state of Georgia," Campus Dean Dr. Barbara Schuster said. "May we have the strength and presence of mind to seize this unique opportunity."