Front Row from left: Brian Gebhardt, Meral Patel, Jennifer Yam, Tayisha Vilceus, Sarah Peterson, Philip Neiheisel; Second Row from left:George Miller, Tiera Williams, Anjali Shroff, Wanja Mwangi, Rachana Dixit; Back Row from left:Vernon Horst, Chase Black, Alex Brueder, James Wallace, Joey Jarrard, Shavonda Thomas
ALBANY -- The first class to make it through the full two years at the Southwest Georgia Clinical Campus for the Medical College of Georgia since it achieved two-year residential clinical campus status is now embarking on its next chapter.
This week, 16 physician hopefuls who recently completed rotations while headquartered at the campus will receive their diplomas.
In 2009 the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the accrediting body for medical schools in the United States, determined the campus -- based across the street from Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital -- was on track to become a two-year residential clinical campus.
The status, obtained shortly thereafter, meant that willing third- and fourth-year medical students would be able to spend the majority of their last two years in school here rather than be limited exclusively to just four- to six-week rotation intervals.
In July 2010, the campus welcomed 17 third-year students who would have the distinction of becoming the first class to take full advantage of the arrangement before their graduation from Georgia Health Sciences University -- which is home to MCG.
Those who have been to the campus have said there is a better chance of students getting one-on-one interactions with doctors when compared to other places, something that has attracted students here.
Among the students is Brian Gebhardt, a member of the graduating class who is also an alum of Westover High School and the University of Georgia -- and the son of Dr. Charles and Jean Gebhardt.
"Both my parents have been in health care; I've been exposed to it all my life," he said in a 2010 interview with The Albany Herald. "I enjoy helping people and making them better.
"The students that had done rotations (in Southwest Georgia) really raved about it. In other places, the students tend to fall back."
By taking advantage of the new residential status, students were able sink their teeth into an opportunity only offered at the institution's Southwest Georgia campus, the Physician Leadership and Advocacy Curriculum certificate program.
As part of the program, in addition to their regular work students were expected to attend a seminar every two weeks on a variety of topics -- including patient safety, quality improvement, public health issues, among others -- during their third year.
During their fourth year, the students pulled together a project that took up an average of 160 hours of their time.
The students presented their projects at a graduation dinner last week. The presentations included topics such as the identification of low-cost/free medications for patients, lessons learned from a mission trip to Bangladesh as well as separate community health education projects.
"What they choose depends on their interests," said Dr. Linda Boyd, associate dean for regional campus coordination at MCG. "(The presentations) were very inspiring.
"One worked with high school students as well as members of the community; one worked with Dr. Lane Price for palliative and hospice care, and several of them did research on colorectal screening for the Southwest Georgia region."
Officials say the program is one that will likely stay exclusive to the campus based in Albany.
"Each campus has its own 'theme curriculum,'" Boyd said. "At the Southeast Georgia Clinical Campus in Savannah, they focus on public health. At the Northwest Georgia Clinical Campus in Rome, they focus on medical communication."
As comes naturally with the learning experience, Boyd said the students seem to now have a better understanding of what it takes to be a physician and that they were a brave group to come to a new campus before all the "kinks" had been worked out.
"I feel optimistic that most will come back to Southwest Georgia," she said.
Most of the students left Albany immediately after last week's presentations and are preparing for commencement exercises -- which will take place at 2 p.m. Friday at the James Brown Arena in Augusta.
Initially, 17 students came to the campus in 2010. As one had to delay graduation for another year, 16 from the Southwest Georgia campus will be walking on Friday.