Aug. 17 was an historic day for Mercer, Memorial University Medical Center, the city of Savannah and the state of Georgia. Thirty first-year medical students received their white coats and began their education as members of the inaugural class in Mercer’s new four-year medical program in Savannah. The White Coat Ceremony, which symbolizes that a doctor should “care” as well as “cure,” was held in the Mercer Auditorium of the Hoskins Center for Biomedical Research on the Memorial campus.
These students were a part of the first White Coat Ceremony for the School of Medicine's new campus in Savannah.
The Mercer School of Medicine’s presence in Savannah dates back to 1996 when the University joined in a clinical relationship with Memorial Health. Over the ensuing 12 years, instruction for third- and fourth-year medical students has been provided at Memorial. The Georgia General Assembly, recognizing the need for additional physicians in the state, allocated funds in the 2007-2008 fiscal year for Mercer to expand to a four-year program in Savannah that will confer the M.D. degree and employ the same curriculum and teaching methods as the Macon campus.
Federal and state studies indicate that the state is facing a serious physician shortage. 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.
“This entering class of 30 first-year medical students represents a commitment that Mercer University, in partnership with the State of Georgia and Memorial Health University Medical Center, has made to provide more physicians for our cities and communities,” said Mercer University President William D. Underwood. “The women and men who make up this first class in Savannah will in a few years join a cadre of Mercer doctors who are making a profound difference in the lives of countless Georgia citizens.”
The Mercer Medical School in Savannah admitted 30 students this year, but that number will grow to 60 students as facilities become available. A new academic building for the Medical School will be constructed on the Memorial Medical Center campus in Savannah in the next several years through major fund-raising initiatives.
Mercer, which is the only medical program in the state that accepts only Georgia residents, opened its Medical School in Macon in August 1982. Since that time, nearly two-thirds of Mercer graduates have remained in Georgia to establish their medical practices. More than 83 percent of these graduates practice medicine in federally-designated, medically-underserved areas. More than 110 Georgia communities and 87 counties have a Mercer-educated physician.
Memorial Health has increased the number of clinical rotations available to accommodate a significant increase in enrollment with Mercer supplementing the existing program in Savannah with a two-year basic science program that will support students in the expanded clinical program.
Dr. Wayne Glasgow is serving as interim senior associate dean – Savannah Campus. Dr. Glasgow will continue with his current duties, leading the basic science faculty in Macon and Savannah, while the School searches for a permanent senior associate dean, according to School of Medicine Interim Dean Dr. William Bina.