Academic house, medical marijuana ahead for Medical College of Georgia

With one of the largest medical school classes in the country, instituting Hogwarts-style “houses” for incoming students and across classes should allow students a greater sense of camaraderie and class interaction, the dean of the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University said Thursday.

In his annual State of the College address, Dr. Peter F. Buckley said the 10th-largest medical school this fall will begin randomly assigning first-year students to one of 20 “academic houses,” along with second-year students, with third- and fourth-year students invited but not required to participate.

Jokingly comparing them with the school houses at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books, Buckley said the units of up to 40 students with two academic advisers would serve some important functions.

“It allows each class to learn from each other sequentially but also to have greater interaction – professional interaction as well as social interaction,” he said. “This is our way of continuing our commitment to being a growing medical school but also continuing our one-on-one contact and interaction with our students.”

The houses also would provide social opportunities and more chances for mentoring and community involvement through activities such as service projects.

With campuses in Rome, Athens, Savannah, Brunswick and Albany listening in to his address, Buckley touted the school’s greater involvement in statewide activities and plans to work with other academic institutions for greater research. The school recently improved from 71st to 66th in funding from the National Institutes of Health (out of 139 medical schools). Also, it is taking a statewide lead in pushing for trials of a marijuana-derived oil for children with untreatable seizure disorders after the Legislature failed to act and Gov. Nathan Deal called on it to help, Buckley said.

“This is an example of the kind of work that we can be doing that is helping the people of Georgia and helping our governor when he asks the state’s medical school to stand up and help him,” he said.

The school has been in touch with British manufacturer GW Pharmaceuticals and is waiting for it to begin two trials in children with a particular seizure disorder, said Dr. Yong Park, the director of the pediatric epilepsy program at GRU. With all things considered, though, it might be next year before clinical trials will come to Georgia, he said.

“Hopefully, it goes smoothly and then, hopefully, we can start on it next year,” Park said. “We are working on it now.”

Buckley is even more optimistic than that.

“Dr. Park may be right, but equally my goal is pushing to have this happen this year,” he said. “We’ll see. We’ve got to do it the right way. Quite frankly, the families have waited a long time. They’ll want us to get it right rather than to rush something.”

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