ALBANY, Ga. - A medical institution with a presence throughout Georgia has taken the next step in the movement to ease the state's physician shortage.
The Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine Southwest Georgia Clinical Campus held a ribbon-cutting for the campus' new headquarters Wednesday afternoon.
The five-year-old campus, which is based at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and spans from LaGrange to Valdosta, welcomed 17 new third-year medical students -- the first class since obtaining a two-year residential status -- last week.
"This is a very exciting day," said Dr. Doug Miller, dean of the School of Medicine at MCG. "I came here for the first time in 2006, and I came to appreciate that this is a quality health system. From the very beginning we have felt a great deal of kinship.
"It's a very exciting experience to see the students working here. This is something that is substantial and will be sustained; this will be the epicenter of the clinical experience in Southwest Georgia."
The site has the distinction of being MCG's first satellite campus.
"It covers almost 50 counties," said Dr. William Guest, assistant dean of curriculum for the Southwest Georgia Clinical Campus.
The facility is located at the Phoebe Learning Center on Jefferson Street, directly across from the hospital. The building encompasses 4,000 square feet.
MCG has had students performing rotations in Southwest Georgia for 15 years. Last year, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the accrediting body for U.S. medical schools, determined the campus was on track to becoming a two-year residential clinical campus -- a status indicating that willing students would be able to spend the majority of their third and fourth years in the area.
Previously, the only option available to students was to perform rotations in four- to six-week intervals.
Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick said at the event that the campus' expansion has been a win for Southwest Georgia overall.
"Today we stand as a region to educate doctors and keep them in Southwest Georgia," he said Wednesday.
Elected officials, as well as health care representatives from throughout the region, attended the ribbon-cutting. Local officials present included commissioners Dorothy Hubbard and Christopher Pike from the Albany City Commission and state reps. Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, and Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg.
The Southwest Georgia campus is part of an overall plan to increase MCG's class size from 190 to 300 by 2020. The plan also includes a second clinical campus based at St. Joseph's/Candler Health System in Savannah, which is slated for residential campus designation soon.
"This (the establishment of the new campus headquarters) is about, in many ways, meeting the Medical College of Georgia's need," said Dr. Doug Patten, senior vice president of medical affairs at Phoebe. "It is also about meeting Phoebe's need, because we need physicians to come back here.
"This is also about the whole region. This investment produces not only doctors, but economic spin-off."
A four-year campus for 40 students in Athens, established in cooperation with the University of Georgia, will begin classes next month. The medical school class size at the institution is scheduled to increase from 190 to 240 in Augusta and from 40 to 60 in Athens by 2020. Facilities to accommodate the growth are currently in the design phases.