Athens medical campus taking shape

ATHENS, Ga. — The University of Georgia Health Sciences Campus has been in operation for only five months, but significant strides have already been made.

The campus opened in August on the 56-acre site of the former Navy Supply Corps School off Prince and Oglethorpe avenues in Athens’ Normaltown community, and now houses UGA’s College of Public Health and the Georgia Health Sciences University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership. This fall, about 550 CPH students and 120 Medical Partnership students took classes at the campus. Coupled with faculty and staff, the campus accommodated more than 800 people.

Those involved in bringing the health sciences campus to Athens hope it will help address a severe shortage of doctors in Georgia – particularly the rural parts of the state – and the rest of the nation. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that by 2020, there will be a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians in the United States. In 2010, the Association ranked Georgia 42nd in the nation – including Washington D.C. – for the number of physicians per 100,000 population.

According to a number of reports, the emerging doctor shortage in Georgia is expected to reach a critical point, such that the only way everyone in the state will have access to medical care is through heavier reliance on nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

Some states already allow nurse practitioners to do some things – ordering an MRI or prescribing a narcotic, for example – without a doctor’s approval, but Georgia still requires a formal written agreement with a doctor that spells out medical tasks a nurse practitioner can perform. If Georgia reaches a point where it needs to rely more on nurse practitioners, it could be forced to loosen restrictions on health care professionals, who some worry might miss things that are medically relevant to a patient’s care that physicians would routinely recognize.

To ensure that the physicians who come to Athens for their training stay in the state, the GHSU/UGA partnership will have to offer residency training in local hospitals. Studies have shown that medical students often continue to work in the state in which they perform their residencies.

“The plan is for residency programs at both (Athens Regional Medical Center and St. Mary’s Health Care System in Athens),” said Shelly Nuss, associate dean for graduate medical education at the partnership. “I am working with both hospitals as a resource of information for graduate medical education programs. The hospitals are where the training will primarily occur, along with community (physicians’) offices.”

This summer, St. Mary’s Health Care System purchased iPads and loaned them to third-year medical clerkship students in the GHSU/UGA Medical Partnership. The students are collaborating with the UGA College of Education on a year-long study to see how iPads can be used in medical settings on a daily basis, to find out how mobile technology can be integrated into medicine. The study includes eight physicians at St. Mary’s and 36 third-year medical students from GHSU/UGA. The study began in July and will end on June 30 of next year.

In terms of physical changes to the health sciences campus, a second phase of renovations is under way. That work includes the repurposing of Rhodes Hall, a historic structure that will be used as administrative headquarters for the College of Public Health. Additionally, Scott Hall, formerly the Navy School’s officers’ club, will become a student center and dining hall.

The University System of Georgia Board of Regents has authorized $9.4 million in state funding for the completion of this phase of the work on the Normaltown campus. An additional $1.9 million in auxiliary funds from UGA’s housing operations will be used to renovate another structure on the Navy School campus for use as a residence hall.

Beyond this current renovation work, the regents have authorized a list of projects proposed for a third phase of work on the Health Sciences Campus. That work will include renovation of Wright Hall for use by the College of Public Health; Hudson Clinic, which will become home to the university’s Institute of Gerontology, and Pound Hall, which will serve as a center for computer-based research. These projects will be designed during the first part of the coming year, with renovation beginning in July and ending in the fall of 2014.

A fourth phase of renovation has yet to be determined.

New campus opening shows growth of Athens medical school branch
UGA already making mark at Navy School campus

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