Med students will get choice: Athens or Augusta?

ATLANTA — When the Medical College of Georgia opens a satellite campus in Athens 16 months from now, the future doctors applying to attend will be asked where they prefer to study: Athens or Augusta.

But they may not get their pick, said Dr. Barbara Schuster, dean of the Athens campus.

She outlined the process today for members of the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents as part of an update on progress at the new campus and preparation for a visit from a team of observers from the accreditation agency. The observers from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education will be looking to make sure students receive the same quality of education and support services in Athens as they would at the home campus in Augusta.

Among those support services are tutoring, counseling for excess debt or psychological issues and even medical care. Those will be provided by the University of Georgia, just as MCG does for UGA pharmacy students taking classes in Augusta, she said.

The committee wants to ensure both campuses are equal, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be identical. And students are likely to prefer one over the other.

Some students may be drawn to Athens’ night life, football games and thousands of undergraduate coeds, while others may see those as a distraction.

“We’ve had some comments among present medical students, ‘It’s kind of good not to be in Athens,’” she said. “I think we’ll see our potential students sort themselves. I think we’ll see students who don’t have a preference, and I think we’ll see students who have a great preference.”

Students are more likely to prefer one campus over another due to where the research or academic mentor is that they are interested in rather than entertainment choices, she said.

They may not get their choice anyway. Applicants will be asked their preference, but if there isn’t an opening — and Athens will only have room for 40 in each class, they’ll be offered the other campus when they decide whether to attend MCG. Admissions officers, though, will grant acceptance based on the applicant’s qualifications, not which campus they prefer.

“Where they want to go will not enter into whether or not they are accepted,” she said. “The standard of acceptance is the priority.”

Those standards will come under scrutiny during the three-day visit that begins Sunday from the accreditation committee. The three observers will go — without an escort from MCG administration — to visit both campuses, meet with faculty and even interview executives with Athens hospitals that will provide clinical experience for the students there.

MCG President Dan Rahn said he believes the school is prepared, but he anticipates the observers will make comments about several “issues in transition” or the details that are still being formulated for various programs on the new campus.

“If you don’t have issues in transition, you’re standing still,” he said.

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