ATHENS, Ga. --- Political and higher education leaders hailed the new medical school in Athens as an economic boon and a step toward solving the state's health care crisis Monday as 40 students began their first day of classes on the new campus.
"It has been a true collaboration," Gov. Sonny Perdue told about 350 people at a formal ribbon-cutting for the Medical College of Georgia-University of Georgia medical partnership, which will be housed in a refurbished pair of mill buildings along the North Oconee River for the students' first couple of years of training.
"This partnership, I look forward to it growing. Georgians will be the beneficiary," said Perdue, the headliner in a lineup of speakers that included UGA President Michael Adams, University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll Davis and MCG President Ricardo Azziz.
The partnership is a good idea, considering that the per capita number of physicians in the state, Perdue said.
Georgia has a low number of physicians per 100,000 population and ranks low on other medical measures, such as obesity, said Dr. Douglas Miller, the dean of MCG's School of Medicine.
Counting the 40 students at the Athens campus, MCG's freshman class this year is 230 students, the ninth-largest freshman class of any U.S. medical school, Miller said.
By 2020, the MCG freshman class size will be second-largest in the country, he said -- plans call for a class of 300, with 240 in Augusta and 60 in Athens.
By then, the Athens branch of the school will be across town at the Navy Supply Corps School campus. The UGA College of Public Health will also move to the Navy school property, along with the college's 250 graduate students and 600 underclassmen.
Other speakers predicted the medical campus would help bring economic development to the state and the Athens area, generate research and teaching collaborations with UGA faculty and bring in research grants.
The 40 new medical students, evenly divided between men and women and all Georgia natives, will have an advantage that students don't at many medical schools, said Barbara Schuster, dean of the MCG-UGA partnership campus in Athens.
Because of the small number, they will be able to work together in small groups, collaborating in much the same way they will collaborate when they begin practicing medicine in about 2017, Schuster said.