First new students accepted for MCG in Athens

For Josh Hedrick, the new Athens branch campus of Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine will seem like old times.

He is one of 13 early acceptance applicants who will make up the branch's first class of 40, which will be operated in conjunction with the University of Georgia. Mr. Hedrick, 22, attended high school at Hebron Christian Academy in Dacula.

"My graduating class was like 40 students," he said. "After experiencing the large classes at UGA -- I graduated from there in May -- I just thought that smaller class sizes would be a better fit." Forty-seven other students were accepted early for an Augusta class of 190 students, pushing the class of 2014 up to 230 students.

The Athens campus and efforts to create new clinical learning opportunities in Athens and Gainesville come even as MCG school leaders sought to assure local legislators those efforts continue in Augusta as well. Three lawmakers wrote a guest column earlier this week in The Augusta Chronicle urging interim MCG Interim President James N. Thompson and others to forge greater cooperation with other Augusta institutions.

"It was a letter of encouragement, more so than anything else," said Rep. Quincy Murphy, D-Augusta, the chairman of the Augusta delegation. "We've got a tremendous opportunity. We have tremendous facilities here."

And Dr. Thompson said it is something he and MCG Health Inc. Interim CEO Sandra McVicker have already discussed.

"We have been talking about this for some time, about meeting with and extending the hand of friendship to other organizations in this community and throughout the state," he said. "We remain committed to utilizing Augusta resources to their fullest and to serving the needs of this community."

University Hospital, for instance, had long hosted MCG residents until the relationship was severed several years.

University is once again hosting two surgery residents and has slots for a total of 14 but is proceeding deliberately on adding more, said Chief Medical Officer William Farr.

"It's probably in the best interest of the trainees to get back into that slowly and get everything working smoothly," he said.

"Over the next few years, there is some opportunity and interest in expanding it," he said.

MCG students and residents also rotate through Trinity Hospital of Augusta and Doctors Hospital, said D. Douglas Miller, the dean of MCG School of Medicine.

But as medical education expands in Georgia, it is clear the school will need to look statewide to find an adequate number of clinical clerkships that students complete in their third year and various other clinical learning experiences, Dr. Miller said.

"My feeling is we're going to have to expand our capacity for clerkships in Augusta, in the community, as well as in other communities across Georgia," he said. "And we're working very hard to do that."

There have been five clinical clerkships already created in the Athens-Gainesville area and "we're adding them at a fairly good clip up there," Dr. Miller said.

But Athens students will likely travel during their clinical training, he said.

"They will do some clerkships in the Athens-Gainesville area but they will also be doing clerkships all across the state," Dr. Miller said, including in Augusta.

Mr. Hedrick realizes he will come to know Augusta as well as Athens even at the new branch campus but he relishes being one of the first.

"Not too many can say they were the first to graduate from UGA's vet school or their pharmacy school," he said. "I thought it would be pretty cool to be one of the first students to graduate from (the new medical school campus)."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

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