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Medical Partnership expands class size by 50 percent

By Mary Kathryn Rogers/UGA Today

The Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership located in Athens is advancing plans to expand its class size from 40 students currently to 60 students in 2021 as part of a broader strategy to address Georgia’s critical shortage of physicians.

“As the state’s only public medical school, it is our duty to lead the way in addressing the state’s health care needs,” says Dr. David Hess, MCG dean. “Expanding the class size at the partnership campus in Athens and soon at the main campus in Augusta is one way we are working to ensure Georgia has not only enough doctors to face its growing shortage of physicians, but a healthy economy as well.”

To accommodate the larger class size in Athens, Russell Hall on UGA’s Health Sciences Campus underwent a $3 million renovation this past summer. The primary focus for the project was to enhance the student learning experience. The enhancements include a new state-of-the-art simulation suite and clinical skills lab, classroom improvements to allow for active learning, additional small group learning spaces and various types of spaces for studying and collaboration.

“The growing Medical Partnership on the University of Georgia campus demonstrates the commitment of the state’s flagship public university to serving the people of Georgia,” said S. Jack Hu, UGA’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “From agriculture and engineering to public health and physician education, the University of Georgia is committed to improving the lives of Georgians.”

Of the state’s 159 counties, 63 currently have no pediatrician, 75 have no obstetrician/gynecologist, and eight counties have no doctor at all, according to recent data from the Georgia Board for Health Care Workforce. Georgia also faces a number of health challenges, including high infant mortality rates, high rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and it is consistently ranked among the worst states for health outcomes.

“According to the latest data by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the projections of physician shortages in the United States are anywhere between 47,000 and 122,000 by the year 2032,” said Dr. Michelle Nuss, campus dean at the AU/UGA Medical Partnership. “Our nation’s population is continuing to grow, and we are living longer lives. With this comes an increased need for physicians of all specialties.”

There are currently 40 students per class in the Medical Partnership, and that number will grow to 50 students per class in 2020, then 60 in 2021 and every year thereafter, bringing the total enrollment in Athens to 240 medical students by 2024. In order to provide for the growth of students, the partnership campus plans to add 12 additional faculty members and six additional staff members over the next two years. In Augusta at MCG’s main campus, there are plans to grow the class size from 190 to 240 by 2028, bringing MCG’s total class size to 300 and total enrollment to 1,200.

The planned expansion to 60 students per class in Athens and 240 per class in Augusta was part of the initial recommendation of the 2008 report by the nationally recognized consulting firm Tripp Umbach, which called for an expansion of medical education in Georgia and the establishment of the AU/UGA Medical Partnership campus.

In 2009, MCG and the University of Georgia partnered to create a four-year medical school campus in Athens to grow the number of physicians produced by the state’s only public medical school and help address physician shortages across the state and region. Georgia is already seeing results. Of the 70 Medical Partnership students who have completed their residency training, 25 are currently practicing in Georgia and many of those are practicing in rural parts of the state.

“I am grateful for the support and leadership from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University and the University of Georgia, along with our state leaders, to bring the student class expansion and construction project forward,” said Nuss. “I’m also extraordinarily grateful for our community partners in the northeast Georgia region.”

An open house to celebrate the renovations and the AU/UGA Medical Partnership class expansion will be held Monday, October 14 from 5-6 p.m. in Russell Hall on UGA’s Health Sciences Campus. This event is free and open to the public.

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