UGA and MCG: Partners for the future

Athens welcomes its first medical school students

UGA and MCG: Partners for the future

The first students in the MCG-UGA Medical Partnership cut the ribbon to dedicate the Interim Medical Partnership Building in Athens.

Photo by: Andrew Davis Tucker

The door to the examination room opens and Chip Carnes steps in, a white lab coat over his shirt and tie. Clipboard in hand, he sits down on a stool in front of his “patient,” Mr. Richardson.

After exchanging pleasantries, Richardson begins describing the pain in his knee. He’s had it off and on for a few years, but it has really bothered him the last few weeks.

“As a result I’m not walking very well,” Richardson tells Carnes, who is taking notes while the patient talks.

They go over Richardson’s medical history for a few minutes before wrapping up the conversation.

“I think I have everything my attending needs,” Carnes says, shaking the patient’s hand and wishing him well.

In a doctor’s office, Carnes would relay the information to an attending physician who would examine the patient.

But here, at the Interim Medical Partnership Building on the UGA campus, Carnes meets with his professor, who watched the simulation on closed circuit TV and will now critique the first-year medical student’s performance.

“I’m nervous going in there usually, but as soon as I get in I always forget the nervousness,” says Carnes, who earned his undergraduate degree in economics from UGA in May. “It really prepares us for any practical examination we’re going to have with a patient.”

The simulations are part of the curriculum for the 40 first-year medical students enrolled in the Medical College of Georgia-UGA Medical Partnership. It is the first year of the Athens-based program, designed to increase the number of physicians in Georgia.

In the future the partnership also is expected to increase the opportunities for medically related research.

“Long term, this medical partnership will enhance UGA’s research enterprise and create more opportunities for grant funding,” UGA Provost Jere Morehead says.

The University System of Georgia Board of Regents approved the expansion of physician education in 2008, designating an additional campus in Athens and two clinical programs in Savannah and Albany. Regents anticipate that through the expansion, medical school enrollment will increase from 190 to 300 students by 2020.

Initially, students in Athens are being educated in the Interim Medical Partnership Building, a historic building near North Campus built in 1857 as the Athens Cotton and Wool Factory. The building was renovated into a state-of-the-art learning environment for the medical students. In 2012, the program will move to a 58-acre campus in Athens currently occupied by the Navy Supply Corps School.

Students admitted to medical school at MCG (which will change its name to Georgia’s Health Sciences University on Feb. 1) for the fall of 2010 were allowed to choose whether to study in Augusta or at the new campus in Athens. About half of the students who chose the Athens campus received their undergraduate degrees from UGA.

One is Nitya Nair, an Alpharetta resident who earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and psychology from UGA in May. Nair says she chose the Athens campus so that she would be closer to her family and also to her fiancé, who is enrolled in the College of Pharmacy. The leadership at the school also impressed her.

“We did a tour of this campus back in April,” Nair says. “Dr. (Barbara) Schuster had a huge impact on me.”

Nair says she liked the idea of a close-knit first-year class and the opportunity to work in small groups.

“It’s a very supportive environment.”

While the core coursework for students in Augusta and Athens is much the same, Schuster, campus dean of the MCG-UGA Medical Partnership, says she believes the Athens students do have an advantage.

“There is much greater faculty-student interaction,” she says. “If you like to be lost in a crowd, this might not work for you.”

Another advantage, Schuster says, is the opportunity to partner with other programs on campus. For example, graduate students within the theater department train volunteers to be simulated patients for the med student clinics.

“Basically it’s an acting job,” theater department head David Saltz says of the simulated patients. Most of the volunteers are retirees, and most have no background in acting. With the help of the theater students, they learn how to present challenging situations to the doctors in their practice rotations “in a believable way so the doctors can find strategies to handle it,” Saltz says.

The med students also receive “actor training.” The acting coaches assess how the future doctors present themselves to patients.

The program has gone so well this semester that Saltz says the theater department is offering an upper level course in simulated patient acting. The students will do their lab work in the med school clinics.

Dr. Stephen Goggans, clinical director for the medical partnership, approached Saltz with the idea of theater training for the simulated patients.

“You want your simulated patients to be as authentic as possible,” Goggans says.

After their sessions, the simulated patients fill out written critiques on their student doctors. Faculty members, who watch the sessions through closed circuit TV, use the patients’ assessments as part of the overall student critique.

“If they perceive problems, they need to share them,” Goggans says. “That’s what’s going to help the students improve.”

The clinical exercises are a critical component of the medical training, which is why they start just weeks after the students arrive on campus, Goggans says. In the past, medical education has focused strictly on science for the first two years, he says, but now more schools realize that students need to begin learning their bedside manner earlier in the process.

Another important component of the program in Athens is community service. The medical partnership has partnered with five local nonprofit organizations through which students will work during the coming year—Nuci’s Space, an Athens program that provides assistance to musicians suffering from depression or other mental/emotional illnesses; Head Start, a preschool program for disadvantaged 3-year-olds; the Athens Nurses Clinic, a nurse-run clinic that provides free health care to the homeless, indigent and low income population in Clarke County; the Athens Community Council on Aging, which provides support and advocacy for older adults; and the UGA University Health Center, which provides health care and counseling to UGA students and employees.

Bree Berry will work with the Athens Nursing Clinic on a smoking cessation project for the next year. Berry, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Davidson College in North Carolina in 2008, says she was interested in the project because it involved working with an underserved population and would be challenging.

“I thought the smoking cessation project would be a good way to get experience with a topic in medicine that we all will be dealing with in the future,” she explains.

A Marietta resident, Berry went to high school at The Walker School, an independent private school in Cobb County with fewer than 1,100 students in grades pre-K through 12. Davidson College is an independent private liberal arts school with fewer than 2,000 students, about 20 miles north of Charlotte. The intimacy of the new medical partnership appealed to her as well.

“I loved the idea of the new campus, I thought that was awesome,” says Berry, who spent a year as a Wake Forest University research assistant and a Kaplan tutor in North Carolina before moving back to Georgia. “The small class size is perfect for me.”

The first Athens campus student to receive a White Coat Initiative scholarship (see p. 51), Berry also has built a friendship with her donors, both UGA grads, who live in Carrollton. Berry met Dr. Bryan Kirby (BS ’99), whose medical degree is from MCG, and wife Samantha Kirby (BSEd ’99) at the August dedication of the new Interim Partnership Building near North Campus.

“He had so much advice to give me about medical school,” Berry says. “They really want to be involved so we’re staying in touch.”

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