Contrary to what some in Georgia might think, the biggest boost to primary care is coming out of Augusta, says Georgia Health Sciences University President Ricardo Azziz.
He is trying to change perceptions about the school as he battles for more money for cancer research and other programs at the school.
Speaking from Atlanta, where the university is asking the Georgia Senate to restore $2.5 million in funding to the GHSU Cancer Center, Azziz said he has been puzzled by the perception that the university produces only specialists.
"While certainly I think other schools, for example Mercer and Morehouse, are doing a wonderful job of creating primary-care physicians for the state of Georgia, the greatest impact for primary care comes from our university," he said. "And that seems to be underrecognized and underappreciated."
Figures from the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce bear out that although both Mercer and Morehouse have higher percentages of medical school graduates who go into primary care, GHSU produced more than three times more primary-care graduates in 2010 as Morehouse and nearly three times more than Mercer.
Compared with some surrounding states, Georgia lacks in residency positions the board stated. Although the number of approved positions increased from the previous year, from 2,166 to 2,221, the state would need to add 315 residency positions to reach the average for Southeastern states and 1,450 to reach the national average.
Those positions are important for retaining medical school graduates, said Cherri Tucker, the board's executive director.
"Most of the national studies state that 60 percent of residents tend to end up practicing close to their residency program, within 50 to 60 miles of their graduate medical education program," she said.
Azziz said that although he would like to see the number of positions increased, he is more concerned for the moment on securing funding for the cancer center and other research programs.
He understands that the state is emerging from a recession, but those cuts can have an large impact, particularly for the cancer center.
"That (funding) is a relatively small amount in the global aspect of the state but certainly an important amount for us as we continue to build the cancer center," he said. "And understanding that, we are in the middle of recruiting a cancer center director, who of course would like to see that the state actually does believe in the mission of our cancer center, does believe in the future of cancer research and cancer care in Georgia."