ALBANY — Nearly 200 second-year medical students from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University paid a visit Wednesday to the MCG Southwest Campus, based at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, to determine whether Southwest Georgia would be the place to spend their next two years of medical school.

The stop in Albany was part of an annual bus tour that included stops at other MCG satellite facilities. During their Southwest Georgia visit, students had an opportunity to experience Albany and the Phoebe Putney Health System facilities while also completing education activities centered on population health.

The bus tour gives second-year medical students an opportunity to “shop” for the satellite campus where they will complete their third and fourth year of medical school. On Tuesday evening, upon arriving in Albany, the students were greeted with a dinner and welcome at Chehaw.

On Wednesday, following a virtual tour of Phoebe facilities and a welcome from Joel Wernick, the health system’s CEO, a lecture was presented by cardiologist Dr. Mark Cohen. After Cohen’s lecture, students were exposed to interactive clinical skills — such as suturing, EKG readings, injections, CPR training — before a tour of the Phoebe Education Building, the home base for the Southwest Campus, on North Jefferson Street.

When they finished their tour, the students departed for Warm Springs. Afterward, the group was expected to visit the campus in Rome before heading to a final stop in Athens.

Dr. Greer Falls, associate dean of student affairs at MCG, said the tour has traditionally been completed over three weekends. This year, it was done over the course of one week while the students fulfilled a Public Health component.

The tour often serves as an eye-opening experience for those who have primarily lived in the Atlanta area, and likely did not know a hospital of Phoebe’s size existed in Southwest Georgia.

“It gives them an appreciation of health care rendered in the state,” Falls said.

Mack Hodges and Chrissy Callaway were among the students making the trip. Right away, the Southwest Georgia atmosphere caught their attention.

Hodges said the energy of the people he interacted with in Albany was remarkable.

“Everyone is pretty onboard with the Phoebe family mentality,” he said. “We just came from Savannah, and (Albany doesn’t have) the coastal life Savannah offers, but people are more excited about Albany.”

The students were welcomed right away in Albany and were able to hear from those currently at the Southwest Campus about their educational experience in the region thus far — which has a reputation for being more hands-on in comparison to other campuses.

“(The students) are able to have a good relationship with the physicians,” Callaway said. “(All the regions) have different areas to focus on. It is different at each of the campuses.

“The differences in the facilities is more than I thought.”

The idea of the tour is that, after seeing those differences, students can make a more informed decision on where they would like to complete their education.

“Each place offers different things. (The tour) has illuminated those differences,” Hodges said. “It is nice to hear from people, especially the students.”

The students got a glimpse of the Southwest Georgia Medical Student Housing Complex currently under construction, which will be available to house students beginning in the summer of 2017. Starting in November, students will be able to apply for studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom units at the complex.

“They are very excited about the housing,” Wernick said. “That is one less barrier they can break down in coming here on short notice.”

The recruitment method stems from observations that students spending time in Southwest Georgia through partnerships with MCG, the University of Georgia School of Pharmacy and the Phoebe Family Medicine Residency are more likely to stay in the region to practice, thereby increasing access to health care and strengthening community economies.

“The vision is to make sure there is an adequate supply of physicians in Southwest Georgia,” Wernick said.

The majority of the group had likely never been to Albany, and allowing students the opportunity to hear from those at the Southwest Campus was meant to provide a welcoming spirit.

“People are starting to realize that is not all about big urban settings,” Wernick said. “If they don’t come and experience it, they just don’t know — and that is what we are trying to expose them to.”

The physician shortage issue, something Southwest Georgia has long felt the sting of, has not been lost even on those outside the area.

“There are areas of the state in need of physicians, there really are,” Falls said.

Staff Writer

I'm a 2007 graduate of Georgia Southern University, and I've been a reporter for The Albany Herald since 2008. I cover news related to health care, Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, SOWEGA Council on Aging and other areas as assigned.

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