School of Medicine to Expand to Full Four-Year Campus in Columbus

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Columbus Press Conference President Underwood

Enrollment to Increase to 240 Students, Equaling Campuses in Macon, Savannah

COLUMBUS – Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) today at the Columbus Chamber of Commerce formally announced expansion of the School’s two-year Columbus campus to a full four-year campus.

“This important initiative originated with leaders in the Columbus community, who successfully carried it to fruition by garnering the support of the State of Georgia and Mercer University. The new campus will provide desperately needed physicians for the entire state, but especially Columbus and Southwest Georgia. We are proud to partner with Columbus and the State to address this need,” said Mercer President William D. Underwood.

The expansion is backed by operational funding from the state, as well as generous support from the Columbus community that will allow renovations to begin later this year on a downtown facility housing new classrooms, labs and office space.

MUSM has begun recruitment of new faculty and scientists for the expanded medical school campus, which is scheduled to enroll its inaugural class of first-year Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) students in August 2021.

“Mercer is committed to its mission of educating physicians who practice in rural and underserved areas of Georgia,” said Jean Sumner, M.D., FASCP, dean of the School of Medicine. “Southwest Georgia has the greatest need for improved access to health care in the state. The Columbus campus will allow Mercer to help address some of those needs. We appreciate the opportunity and support that we have received from the Columbus community and look forward to continuing this partnership.”

Mercer’s involvement in the Columbus community dates back more than 20 years when the School began sending third-year medical students to do clinical rotations with local physicians.

In 2012, Mercer started offering clinical education to third- and fourth-year medical students in Columbus, establishing the University’s third medical school campus in partnership with Midtown Medical Center (now Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital) and St. Francis Hospital and admitting a total of 12 students. Currently, the School enrolls 40 students in Columbus.

In the coming years, the Columbus campus will ramp up its total enrollment to 240 medical students, equaling the size of each of School’s two other campuses in Macon and Savannah.

“Mercer University School of Medicine students have not only enjoyed being a part of the Columbus community but have benefited tremendously from their experiences in the medical community here,” said Alice House, M.D., FAAFP, dean of the Columbus campus and professor of family medicine. “We have begun to see the dividends of our labor as we are welcoming some of our graduates back to practice in the Columbus area.”

The School of Medicine was established in Macon in 1982 as a result of a public-private partnership between the University and the State of Georgia to educate physicians and health professionals to meet the primary care and health care needs of rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia. In 2008, a second four-year campus was established in Savannah.

Currently, more than 1,500 MUSM graduates are practicing physicians, and of those, more than 65 percent practice in Georgia. Of those, more than 70 percent are practicing in a primary care specialty, and more than 80 percent are practicing in a rural or underserved area.

A recent study showed that Mercer ranks second nationally in the percentage of its medical school graduates practicing in low-income areas in the school’s home state and third nationally in the percentage practicing in rural areas in the school’s home state. It also ranks third nationally in the percentage entering primary care in the school’s home state.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 24 of the 30 counties in Southwest Georgia have a health status ranked in the bottom half of Georgia’s counties. Rural counties in the region have 16 physicians per 10,000 residents, 25% below the national average of 24 physicians per 10,000 residents, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Additionally, more than half of the counties in the region have no pediatrician, psychiatrist or OB-GYN.

Data confirms that physicians tend to practice medicine near where they receive their medical education, so expanding the School of Medicine’s Columbus campus to a full four-year program is expected to positively influence the number of physicians in the region over time.

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 health care needs of rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia. Today, more than 65 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 Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital 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