School of Medicine Faculty Members Receive NIH Center of Excellence Designation, Additional $700K in Federal Funding

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MUSM Faculty Members Receive NIH Center of Excellence Designation

MACON – Two Mercer University School of Medicine faculty members recently received funding from the National Institutes of Health that will officially designate MUSM’s Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities as an NIH Center of Excellence.

With this designation, the Mercer-based Center is now one of only two rural health-focused NIH Centers of Excellence in the nation.

“Mercer University School of Medicine is committed to rural health. The designation of this center only deepens and strengthens our commitment,” said Jean Sumner, M.D., dean of the School. “Rural and underserved health care requires study, innovation and solutions that build the strength of the communities we serve. We are honored to receive this designation.”

Dr. Bryant Smalley, who came to Mercer late last year as associate dean for research and accreditation, and Dr. Jacob Warren, who has served as Rufus Harris Endowed Chair and director of the Center since 2013, have served as joint principal investigators on the NIH Center of Excellence grant since 2012.

After Dr. Smalley joined the faculty at Mercer, they were able to successfully negotiate the transfer of the Center of Excellence designation, accompanied by nearly $700,000 in new federal funding, to the University. This brings the total amount granted to Mercer under this award to more than $2.1 million.

Funded by NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (grant P20MD006901), Centers of Excellence serve as focal points of expertise in research, training and community engagement dedicated to the needs of a particular community or health outcome.

In the case of Mercer’s Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities, the focal area is eliminating health disparities faced by rural populations.

“Our work focuses on addressing some of the leading health problems in rural communities, training future generations of rural health researchers and partnering with rural communities to develop innovative strategies for improving the entire community’s health,” said Dr. Smalley. “This funding will allow us to continue and expand our work throughout the state.”

Dr. Smalley and Dr. Warren have received numerous accolades recognizing the work of the Center, including the National Rural Health Association Outstanding Researcher of the Year award, which was presented to Dr. Warren in 2016 and Dr. Smalley in 2018. Additionally, the Center’s Disparities Elimination Summer Research Experience was named the 2016 Program of the Year by the NRHA.

“We are extremely excited to receive official NIH Center of Excellence designation for the Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities,” said Dr. Warren. “Mercer University School of Medicine is uniquely poised to become the national leader in rural health research, and this funding will help us continue the remarkable growth in that area already happening here at Mercer.”

About Mercer University School of Medicine (Macon, Savannah and Columbus)

Mercer University’s School of Medicine was established in 1982 to educate physicians and health professionals to meet the primary care and healthcare needs of rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia. Today, more than 60 percent of graduates currently practice in the state of Georgia, and of those, more than 80 percent are practicing in rural or medically underserved areas of Georgia. Mercer medical students benefit from a problem-based medical education program that provides early patient care experiences. Such an academic environment fosters the early development of clinical problem-solving and instills in each student an awareness of the place of the basic medical sciences in medical practice. The School opened a full four-year campus in Savannah in 2008 at Memorial University Medical Center. In 2012, the School began offering clinical education for third- and fourth-year medical students in Columbus. Following their second year, students participate in core clinical clerkships at the School’s primary teaching hospitals: Medical Center, Navicent Health in Macon; Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah; and The Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. The School also offers master’s degrees in family therapy, preclinical sciences and biomedical sciences.

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Kyle Sears