Medical College of Georgia students Carolyn Curtis, left, and Vernon Horst check patient information at the Southwest Georgia Clinical Campus on Jefferson Street in Albany Wednesday. Curtis and Horst, undergraduates based at the Medical College of Georgia Southwest Georgia Clinical Campus, felt a Rentz scholarship should generate a lot of interest.
ALBANY — Paying for higher education can be expensive. Medical school is no exception.
Medical College of Georgia students going into their third or fourth year of undergraduate training may soon be eligible to receive a scholarship if they are from the Southwest Georgia area, or express an interest in practicing in the region.
The scholarship was established in memory of the late Dr. Turner Rentz Sr.
A native of Baker County, Rentz graduated from the Medical College of Georgia in 1946. From the end of his high school career, he knew he wanted to be a doctor.
“My grandmother marshaled the resources to make it happen,” said Dr. Turner Rentz Jr., son of the late physician and assistant dean for curriculum at the MCG Southeast Georgia Regional Campus.
The elder Rentz later interned in Greenville, S.C.
He ended up practicing in Colquitt and at the Baker County Health Clinic for a number of years.
“He was always real close to the area in that he loved farmland, but he also liked the people,” his son said. “(While practicing as a doctor) he did a little of everything.”
He died in December 2010. The family he left behind says that, even to his dying day, he remained grateful to the medical school.
“He felt it was what gained him the opportunity to practice,” said the younger Rentz.
“He pledged some money to the school, and asked his kids if they would complete that when he died.
“It was his idea to pledge the money. We felt it would be appropriate if it was arranged as a scholarship.”
Rentz described his father as someone who loved his work, enjoyed his practice and seemed to always enjoy people.
“He talked with them, not to them,” he recalled.
A CRITICAL NEED
Rentz added that a scholarship would have the benefit of meeting what is considered to be a critical need in Southwest Georgia for primary care physicians.
“Anything we can do to support this is worthwhile,” he said. “Southwest Georgia is in a particular need.
“When students go to medical school, it is expensive. If we can lighten the expense, it is worthwhile.”
The process of establishing the scholarship program is just beginning, and hopes are that funds can start being distributed this summer.
In the meantime, the Medical College of Georgia Foundation will be taking donations to make the pool bigger.
“The school has increased enrollment because of the mandate to increase the number of doctors,” Rentz said. “One of the things we have to do is learn how to support them financially.
“We’ve done all the paperwork, so the scholarship has been committed. We would like to have a body of money in the scholarship, and ask them (the recipients) to repay it in a few years.”
The scholarship has also been classified as needs based, Rentz said. While not considered an academic scholarship, he added it will not likely be awarded to someone with poor marks.
When asked how he thought his father would feel about the scholarship becoming a reality, Rentz said, “He would be so proud he couldn’t stand it. He would have tears in his eyes.”
Dr. Ruth Fincher, vice dean for academic affairs for MCG, said she did not have specific data on the effectiveness of a scholarship focusing on a particular region, but did indicate that such a study would likely yield positive results.
“Medical school is expensive and it is getting more expensive,” she said. “Students are financing their medical education one way or the other.
“I don’t have specific data, but my surmise would be that they (students receiving this kind of scholarship) would be more likely to practice in a particular place.”
A MEDICAL LEGACY
Based on trends from previous years, Fincher said that such a scholarship would also be effective in keeping physicians here.
Such observations are based on not only the incentives behind the scholarships, but what physician-hopefuls in general are more likely to do after graduation.
“If it is designed by a particular community to bring doctors in, (students receiving those scholarships) would be highly likely to practice there,” she said. “Students who come from a rural type of area, or are training in a certain area, are more likely to practice in that area or in a similar area (as opposed to an urban area).”
In light of this, Fincher theorizes that such a multi-pronged method would be an effective recruiting strategy.
“I think this is a study we need to do,” she said.
When awarding this scholarship, officials say it is more likely to go to students who are ready to make a long-term commitment to the region rather than those planning on coming here for a two-year stint.
The hope is, as Rentz pointed out, that the physician shortage here will eventually level out.
“If we could use the scholarship for funding if tied to a particular part of the state, it could have a positive impact,” Fincher said. “I wish I had specific data, but there is enough related information to suggest that it is an added enticement.
“What we want is not for people to fulfill a commitment, but establish a career.”
Vernon Horst and Carolyn Curtis, both undergraduate students based at the Medical College of Georgia Southwest Georgia Clinical Campus, said that — based on their experience as medical students — such a scholarship should generate a good bit of interest.
“Southwest Georgia is typically a poorer part of the state,” Horst, a fourth-year student, said. “That is one of the drawbacks for which this scholarship might be helpful.
“There is also potential for the school in that a person’s education may be paid for in part.
“They may be more willing to take someone from the Southwest Georgia area. This way, (a Southwest Georgia student) can have the medical legacy someone from Atlanta or Augusta might have.”
TAKE A LOOK
Both Curtis and Horst, neither of whom is from Southwest Georgia, said they might have taken such a scholarship had they had the opportunity.
“Right now, our financial situation is concerning,” said Curtis, a third-year student. “I would have appreciated having a scholarship.”
If nothing else, it is fair from a student’s perspective to say the scholarship might at least help in terms of recruitment.
“I came here and saw a real potential for education,” Horst said.
“Just because this is not Atlanta or Augusta does not mean (the region) is a generation behind.
“Albany is a place with a good hospital system, but because of the financial status of the area, some might not want to come down here.”
In order to convince more physician-hopefuls to practice here, Horst recommends the “seeing is believing” approach.
“It can be difficult (to get people in Southwest Georgia) unless they come down and see the area instead of using just verbal communication,” he said. “I’ve tried to convince people as much as possible to come take a look and consider the benefits.”
While she is considering international work, Curtis is now leaning toward spending the time she has on American soil in a small-town setting.
“I had never lived in a small town, but after being here more than a year, I’ve kept my eyes open,” she said. “If I hadn’t come down here I would not have known.”