SAVANNAH — Mercer University and Memorial Health announced Wednesday a major initiative to increase the number of doctors serving Georgia’s communities. Mercer will expand its existing two-year clinical program at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah into a full four-year campus of the Mercer University School of Medicine.
This expansion, which will eventually double the number of medical doctors graduating from Mercer, was made possible by funds allocated in the 2007-2008 fiscal year state budget signed into law last month by Gov. Sonny Perdue.
“The expansion of Mercer’s medical program into a four-year medical school in Savannah is good news for Georgia. It will help meet the increased demand for doctors, especially in underserved areas of our growing state,” Perdue said. “The Savannah campus will ensure that more Georgians have access to the quality medical care they need.”
Federal and state reports indicate Georgia is facing a serious physician shortage in the state. Georgia ranked 37th in the number of physicians per capita, 41st in total mortality and 43rd in overall health status in a 2005 report by the United Health Foundation.
In addition, more than 25 percent of the current Georgia physician workforce is age 55 or older. Most of these physicians will retire from practice or significantly curtail their patient care activities in the next 15 years.
The Mercer School of Medicine at Memorial Health in Savannah will begin by admitting 30 students per year and grow to 60 students as facilities become available. Mercer plans to hire faculty to begin work in January 2008 and to admit the initial class of medical students for the fall of 2008. A new academic building for the medical school will be constructed on the Memorial Health University Medical Center campus in Savannah over the next several years through major fundraising initiatives.
“When the Mercer University School of Medicine opened 25 years ago in partnership with the state of Georgia, the university made a commitment to establish an outstanding program of medical education that would prepare physicians to meet the health care needs of rural and underserved areas of Georgia,” said Mercer President William D. Underwood. “Mercer has kept that commitment, and we are pleased to have this opportunity to join with Memorial Health in expanding our ability to address the health care needs of Georgia.”
The public/private partnership between Mercer and the state has proven to be a successful means of meeting the health care needs of the state. Each year, Georgia residents make an estimated 1.3 million visits to physicians educated by Mercer. Nearly two-thirds of Mercer graduates remain in Georgia to set up their medical practices.
More than 83 percent of these graduates practice medicine in federally-designated, medically-underserved areas; 112 Georgia communities and 87 counties have a Mercer-educated physician.
In the state’s new budget, Mercer will receive an additional $5.5 million for support of the new medical school campus in Savannah.
Mercer’s medical involvement in Savannah began in 1996 when the university established a clinical relationship with Memorial Health, which provided instruction for third- and fourth-year medical students at the Mercer School of Medicine. The expanded four-year program in Savannah will confer the M.D. degree and will employ the same curriculum and teaching methods as the Macon campus.
“The students educated in Savannah learn from our nationally recognized doctors, educators, and medical visionaries. They can experience world-class medicine and research first-hand, and take that knowledge with them as they establish their own practices,” said Robert A. Colvin, president and CEO of Memorial Health.
Colvin adds that the addition of a medical school is the natural next step toward Memorial Health’s teaching and research goals. The organization already offers six physician residency programs and a world-class cancer research program. The Curtis and Elizabeth Anderson Cancer Institute at Memorial Health University Medical Center recently established a laboratory research program housed in The William and Iffath Hoskins Center for Biomedical Research.