Fahad Khan sat next to Lance McLeroy during a brunch Wednesday at the Old Medical College Building. Though the two are in the same freshman class in the School of Medicine at Medical College of Georgia, they will soon be 90 miles apart -- with Khan in Augusta and McLeroy in Athens at the new branch of the medical school.
The combined class of 230 came together for a freshman orientation to meet classmates, buy textbooks, and begin to bond. But 190 will stay in Augusta and 40 will begin the inaugural class in Athens in conjunction with the University of Georgia.
It is the largest class in school history and among the top 10 largest incoming medical school classes in the country, according to MCG.
"This is a huge class," MCG President Ricardo Azziz said as he greeted the new students, who formed a long line that went out a gate and across the lawn. Near the end of that line was Maharsh Patel, who recently graduated from UGA but chose Augusta for medical school, in part to get away from the No. 1 party school, according to a recent poll.
"It is a lot quieter and a better environment to study," he said.
Another recent UGA grad, Chelsea Chandler, chose Augusta just to get out of town.
"I loved living in Athens, but I just wanted a change for the next four years," she said. "I didn't see myself living in Athens for eight years."
Across the table sat Lum Frundi, who chose Athens over Augusta.
"Smaller class size and it's closer to home" in Stone Mountain, she said.
That's part of why Athens appealed to Justin Brooten.
"It's very personalized," he said. "It seems like we are going to get a lot of personal attention."
The curriculums will be slightly different, with Athens taking advantage of the size difference to do more small-group teaching, but Augusta students also will get plenty of that, said D. Douglas Miller, the dean of MCG's School of Medicine.
"We will learn things from Athens, and we will learn things from Augusta," he said, with the goal of making both better.
The two groups of students will likely bond through student organizations and outside activities, such as the homeless clinic or the migrant workers clinic the students run, said Daniel Spollen, who chose Athens.
"I know a lot of those clinics do work outside of Augusta, so I imagine we will team up with them and do work outside of Athens and travel around the state," he said.
There will also be a lot of virtual linking of the classes to take advantage of Augusta's resources, said Kathleen M. McKie, the School of Medicine's associate dean for academic affairs.
"We will probably use quite a bit of videoconferencing," she said.
Ultimately, it is the state that will benefit from the expanded classes, said Cristina Isales, whose father, Dr. Carlos Isales, is part of the faculty at MCG.
"I think it is fantastic because what we will wind up having is more students to fill the shortage of physicians in Georgia," she said.