Georgia’s only public medical school has received funding approval to open a new four-year campus in Savannah, an expansion that officials say will provide greater access to education and training for medical students and ease the state’s ongoing shortage of physicians.
The new campus of Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia (MCG) is expected to enroll its first students on the Armstrong Campus of Georgia Southern University by Fall 2024, pending approval by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the accrediting body for medical schools in the U.S. and Canada. The campus will be located in the existing Armstrong Center and the Health Professions Academic Building of Georgia Southern’s Waters College of Health Professions.
Located down the street from Savannah’s St. Joseph’s Hospital, it would be MCG’s third four-year campus in Georgia. The MCG educational experience is anchored at its main campus in Augusta, with another four-year campus located in Athens in partnership with the University of Georgia.
"The expansion of Augusta University's Medical College of Georgia in Savannah holds tremendous significance for the local community. By establishing a new four-year campus in Savannah, we are addressing the pressing need for more health care professionals in the region. This development will not only bolster the medical community in Savannah, but also strengthen access to quality health care throughout Southeast Georgia,” said Augusta University President Brooks A. Keel, PhD. “Through this expansion, we aim to cultivate a pipeline of talented and compassionate physicians who will serve the Savannah area and beyond. Our partnership with Georgia Southern University and St. Joseph's/Candler Health System will provide students with exceptional educational opportunities and invaluable clinical experiences. By investing in the education and training of future doctors in Savannah, we are investing in the well-being and prosperity of the community.”
The plan is to use existing buildings on GSU's Armstrong Campus on the South Side of Savannah.
“We’re just repurposing some buildings on the Armstrong campus, and that’s why we’re able to do it so economically,” Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns said in an article in the Statesboro Herald on April 28, discussing state funding for the new project.
From the first cohort of 40 med students, the program is expected to ramp up to 120 in future years, Burns implied.
Savannah’s District 6 City Alderman Kurtis Purtee said “I think this is an awesome opportunity and a major game changer for our area. Health profession careers are in high demand, and now we have an another program specifically focused to train those future healthcare workers. We have the right resources in the right place, right here on the South Side of Savannah! We will see more growth and development in housing and infrastructure as this program grows.” (The Armstrong Campus sits in Purtee’s district.)
The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (USG) on Tuesday approved $1.7 million for renovations at Georgia Southern’s Armstrong Campus to help make the new campus a reality. The money was included in the fiscal year 2024 state budget passed earlier this year by the Georgia General Assembly and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp on May 5.
“Georgia ranks 40th in the nation for both the number of active physicians and the number of primary care doctors,” Burns said. “Georgians experience this reality every day. Increasing opportunities within the University System of Georgia allows Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia to educate and train more students and meets a clear need to make sure our communities receive better health care. Georgia needs more doctors, and I’m proud we are making this investment in our future.”
Officials say four-year campuses provide the full spectrum of medical education, from basic sciences to clinical experiences.
“This partnership with Augusta University and the Medical College of Georgia is another example of how together, the governor, our legislators, the University System of Georgia and Georgia Southern University are collaborating to meet the growing needs of Southeast Georgia,” added GSU President Kyle Marrero. “These programs on our Savannah campus further Armstrong’s history of being a leader in training health care professionals and complement our efforts to expand nursing education and develop our future physician assistant program.”
Through this partnership, Georgia Southern will provide approximately 23,000 square feet of instructional and lab space in its Armstrong Center and the Waters College of Health Professions’ Health Professions Academic Building.
This includes 10,000 square feet of dedicated student group workspace and faculty and staff offices and 13,000 square feet of shared anatomy lab and large classroom space. The renovations include the creation of a new anatomy lab within the Health Professions Building, as well as minor renovations and new furniture, fixtures and equipment for the student group workspace and faculty and staff offices.
The new campus would allow MCG to accept 40 more students per year, increasing its class size, already one of the nation’s largest, to 304 students per class.
“As the state’s only public medical school, it is both our responsibility and commitment to produce more doctors for Georgia, and this growth in our class size is one way we can fulfill what I consider to be our most critical mission” said MCG Dean David Hess, MD.
“This is a sentinel event not only for the future of health care in Georgia, but also for Savannah and the region,” added Paul P. Hinchey, president & CEO of St. Joseph’s/Candler. “We have had a great relationship with MCG for more than a decade and our physicians have been instrumental as faculty in teaching third- and fourth-year students in Savannah. SJ/C has also served as a longstanding clinical site for nursing students from Georgia Southern and from the Armstrong campus. Creating a four-year medical school campus in Savannah will strengthen the medical community in Savannah and throughout Southeast Georgia.”