Athens leaders tour MCG-UGA medical campus

Athens community leaders and University of Georgia administrators got a preview of Athens' new medical campus Tuesday and said goodbye to one of the men who helped make the facility possible - Medical College of Georgia President Dan Rahn. Rahn will step down Thursday to take over as chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Athens-Clarke Mayor Heidi Davison, Athens Area Chamber of Commerce President Doc Eldridge, former state legislator Louise McBee and three members of the state Board of Regents toured the temporary home of the medical college, along with several vice presidents, deans and other top administrators from UGA and the Medical College in Augusta.

Five years ago, Rahn and UGA President Michael Adams began meeting to talk about how the state needs more doctors and whether Athens might host a new medical training program, Dr. Barbara Schuster, dean of the medical campus, told the crowd.

Those meetings were the beginning of the medical campus in Athens, officially called the Medical College of Georgia-University of Georgia Medical Partnership.

Georgia ranks 41st among the 50 states for the number of physicians per 100,000 people, and also fares poorly in other public health comparisons, Adams said.

Starting a medical campus in Athens was and is the right idea, Rahn said.

"It is extraordinarily worthwhile. It has not been easy," he said. "The beneficiaries of this will be the future citizens of this state."

As Schuster, Adams and Rahn spoke to about 100 people on a patio outside the old mill buildings that will be the medical partnership's first home, workers inside the 152-year-old buildings were working out the last bugs in an ultramodern computer and high-definition video system. The system will link all the building's classrooms and also will allow students in Athens to take part in classes held on the main Medical College of Georgia campus in Augusta.

Classes for the first group of medical students are scheduled to begin in less than a year, in August 2010. Some prospective students will get a look when the campus hosts a pair of open house days in October and November.

Many offices remain empty; only about half the faculty who will teach students in their first two years have been hired, Schuster said.

Just 40 students will enroll in the first class at the medical campus, but by 2020 - after the first class is practicing medicine - officials plan to increase class size to 60 students per year. The School of Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia campus in Augusta also is increasing enrollment in the next few years, from 180 up to 240 students a year, for a total of 300 students per class at the two locations.

The new campus in Athens will do more than increase the number of doctors in the state, said Svein Oie, dean of UGA's College of Pharmacy.

Pharmacy students will be able to work closely with medical students, he said.

"This is the future for us, because all medicine is going to be a team approach," he said.

COMING TOGETHER

The plan to create a medical and public health college on the 58-acre campus of the Navy Supply Corps School in Normaltown began in 2005, when the U.S. Navy decided to relocate the mission as a part of the Base Realignment and Closure program. Other important dates in the University of Georgia-Medical College of Georgia collaboration include:

April 2007 - Georgia legislators approve spending $2.8 million to expand medical training.

October 2007 - The Athens-Clarke County Local Redevelopment Committee approves a UGA proposal to establish a health sciences center on the Navy school site.

January 2008 - A consultant recommends establishing a medical campus in Athens to train new physicians for the state.

February 2008 - UGA Real Estate Foundation buys the old O'Malley's building on the North Oconee River near Oconee Street to become the interim home for the new medical campus.

October 2008 - Dr. Barbara Schuster, a medical educator from Ohio, named dean of the campus, which is designated the MCG/UGA Medical Partnership.

August 2010 - First 40 medical students scheduled to begin studies on the Athens campus.

2011 - UGA slated to take over the Navy School campus.

2012 - The MCG/UGA Medical Partnership expected to move to the Normaltown campus.

2014 - First students due to graduate and begin residencies.

2017 - First students will begin practicing medicine.

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