By David C. Hess, M.D.
Augusta is home to one of the crown jewels of medicine — the Medical College of Georgia, the state’s only public medical school.
Founded in 1828 as the nation’s 13th oldest medical school, MCG has the 9th largest freshman medical school class in the country.
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We have a true statewide mission and presence, with a second four-year campus in Athens in partnership with the University of Georgia as well as regional clinical campuses based in Rome, Albany, Savannah and Brunswick where third- and fourth-year medical students hone their clinical knowledge and skill working alongside physicians in clinics and hospitals across our state.
We have a growing campus in Atlanta in partnership with WellStar Health System, the state’s largest health system.
Here at MCG’s home base, our clinical partner is Augusta University Health System. MCG anchors the AU Health System, and together we are one of only 125 integrated Academic Health Centers (AHC) in the U.S. These relatively rare AHCs are a national treasure, with a tripartite mission of clinical care and service, education and research, that impact so many aspects of our lives.
Recent data from the Association of American Medical Colleges show that AHCs contribute 3.1 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, a portion similar to that of the transportation and warehousing sector.
In Georgia, medical schools and their teaching hospitals contribute $8.75 billion to the state economy and have a huge economic impact on their communities.
AHCs develop state-of-the-art clinical programs such as Level I trauma, stroke, transplant and cancer centers, train the next generation of physicians, nurses and other health care providers and form the safety net that cares for the poor and uninsured. They are engines of innovation, and make new discoveries that lead to new treatments to alleviate human suffering.
At MCG, we have made discoveries such as the beta adrenergic receptors that led to the development of drugs to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, treatments to prevent stroke in children with sickle cell anemia, new immunotherapies for cancer and innovations in telehealth that allow patients in rural areas to receive expert stroke care where they live. MCG also trains more than 500 residents and fellows in 48 programs ranging from front-line primary care physicians in family medicine to cancer subspecialists in gynecologic oncology.
Great physician training is critically important, as Georgia ranks 39th in the U.S. in the number of physicians per capita. With our state consistently in the top 10 rankings in terms of population and population growth, and with a population that is aging – including our physician population – our physician shortage will worsen. Many Georgia counties outside of Atlanta already rank at the bottom of the U.S. in health measures.
But even as we tackle these important health matters, academic health centers ourselves are under siege from cuts in health care reimbursement, byzantine rules on funding of the graduate medical education programs that train future specialists, and static National Institutes of Health funding to support the research that will find better preventions and treatments.
The reality is that while research, education and service are noble missions, they also are difficult businesses. However, their return on investment is to future generations and to you, the citizens of our home base, as well as our state and nation.
At MCG and our health system, we have a public trust to improve the health of our community and our state, and noble causes like research and medical education are worth fighting for.
We appreciate your support.
The writer is dean of the Medical College of Georgia and executive vice president for medical affairs and integration at Augusta University.