AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF) Dr. David Hess outlines the successes and challenges facing the Medical College of Georgia. Please enjoy this interview and remember to join us for The Means Report. We are on Monday afternoons at 12:30 on NewsChannel 6.

But first, as promised, one of our favorite guests, he is Dr. David Hess, the Dean of the Medical College of Georgia on the eve here, as we tape this on Thursday, of delivering his annual state of the college address. Dean Hess, thanks for coming back. We appreciate you.

Thanks, Brad. Great to be here.

Let’s look at one big thing that’s happened since you were last here and that is this presence known as Wellstar. They have appeared in our town, and my question to you is, please explain to the viewers what y’all’s relationship is with Wellstar. Did they acquire Augusta University/MCG? What happened?

Well, so far it’s a letter of intent, but we’ve actually been at the Wellstar Kennestone campus, our students, for seven or eight years. In fact, there’s 17 of them now. So already training in Atlanta. What this is is this is what’s called a member substitution. It’s a merger. They’re not buying the asset. The Board of Regents owns MCG Hospital and they always will. So they lease it from it. Augusta University Health System is a 501C3 and they lease the facility from the Board of Regents. So, Wellstar will come in and be a member substitute for that. The way it’s planned out. Now, we’re still getting down to a full agreement, but so far, there’s a letter of an intent, which we’re working toward. It’s a very complicated process.


As I’ve learned. It’s not something you go through all the time.

No, it isn’t. And that explains it a lot better and I appreciate you shedding some light on that. You mentioned Atlanta. MCG has campuses all over the state. Is this regional approach working well for y’all? And can we still say that Augusta is the main campus?

Yeah, it works really well. I mean, the regional campus is our secret sauce, if you will. And Augusta will always be our academic medical center. There’s only two academic medical centers in Georgia, Emory and us.


So it’ll always be our base camp, if you will. But what really makes it strong is that Georgia’s our campus. We have campuses in Rome, in Dalton, Savannah, Brunswick, a partnership campus with UGA in Athens, and in Albany. So, the only place we weren’t was Atlanta, which is ironic. 60% of the population of Georgia is in Atlanta, about 60% of our students have come from Atlanta, but we don’t have a campus there. So with Wellstar, the plan is develop a full regional campus. We’re about 80 to 90% of the way there. We’ve had so many students there. But this will formalize the regional campus in Atlanta. At least that’s the plan.

What about the relationship with the University of Georgia? Is that still growing strong?

It’s going very, very strong. They’re the national champions and so we have a, you know, that’s a four year campus and it has a little bit of different model than ours. But we do is we experiment with the regional campuses, we see what works, and then we take it to other regional campuses.

One of the things that you have championed as dean is to grow the enrollment at the Medical College of Georgia. How are y’all’s numbers doing? Are you headed in the right direction?

Yeah, so we have 264 students, which is large for a medical school.


It’s about the ninth largest in the country. We plan to go up, we wanna go up to 300. That’s always been our goal. So, I think you’ll be seeing some increase of our first year class and eventually, all of our class in the coming months, in the coming years.

Dean, do most of those medical students graduate? And if so, or if not so, whoever does graduate? Are we doing a good job of keeping those physicians in Georgia where we really need them?

Yeah. We have a record of applications. We get great ingredients. We want to keep more of ’em in Georgia. 95% of our students are from Georgia. That’s one of the highest requirements in the country. But the problem in Georgia is we don’t have enough residency slots. So we tend to be, in Georgia, an exporter of medical students. We need to build up GME slots. One of the attractions of Wellstar is they have 200 GME slots, so that’ll allow kind of a UME, we say, undergraduate medical education, GME, graduate medical education continuum. So that’s what we really have to do. We have to get more residency spots in Georgia and keep ’em here. We have the Peach State Scholar Program where we pay their tuition for every year they do service in underserved Georgia. And almost all of Georgia’s underserved ’cause we rank 40th in the nation in physicians per capita.


In a country where we’re short of doctors. But the Peach State Scholar Programs, they have to do their residency in Georgia and they practice in underserved Georgia. And Richmond County is underserved, a lot of it.

So, these young up-and-coming doctors are taking advantage of the many incentives you all offer?

Yes, yes.

Let me ask you about nurses. Do we still need ’em or are we still short?

Yes. Short of nurses. Short of doctors, short of nurses. They’re both in bad shape.

Is the pandemic over?

I hope so.


The worst of it, I believe.

I hope so too. Do you think that’s prohibiting or causing people to be reluctant to enter the field, doctors and nurses, because they don’t want any part of that?

Well, I don’t think. The doctors are not reluctant, and we have a record number of applications.


They call it the Fauci Effect. Actually, more people wanna be doctors. I think with nurses is, we’re trying to get more spots. There’s more nursing schools. But the problem with a lot of health professions is they leave the active practice of the profession. During the COVID pandemic, a lot of doctors retired early, unfortunately, which made the problem worse.

All right, so we won’t say the pandemic’s over, but we’ll say as it appears to be waning, is telehealth still a thing? It was huge during the times when we couldn’t leave our homes.

Yes. And Dr. Tedesco started telehealth here in the 1990s. We started a new center, the MCG Center for Telehealth, led by Matt Lyons, who’s now a Harrison Endowed chair. And what Matt has done is he has gone to all these rural hospitals and set up telemedicine stations to keep the patients in the rural hospitals, or to decide which ones need to be transferred. So we’re really cutting edge. And the nice thing about Wellstar, Wellstar has a focus on digital health. Well, digital health includes the electronic medical record, telehealth, wearable devices, like my Apple watch. That’s a real strength that we’re gonna have with Wellstar to do this statewide. So if you look where we are with Wellstar is, we now cover the entire state.

Two quick things, and I’m sorry it’s flying by today. Are you pleased with research? I know that’s a huge area for you. Last time I checked, y’all have world-class researchers on campus.

We do. Last year, we hired two world-class immunologists from La Jolla, California. They came to Augusta and they love it here, Klaus Ley and Lynn Hedrick. And they’ve already hired three immunologists and I interviewed one yesterday and there’s another offer letter out. So, they’re growing it really fast. But there’s many other examples of great research. We wanna be a top 60 in NIH funding. We got a little ways to go. But we have great research and we actually wanna emphasize that for our medical students. Last night we had a research fair for medical students. We had probably about a hundred medical students there. Now, some were there for the pizza, but a lot of ’em were there for the research opportunities.

I can’t let you go without congratulating you on the urology department. It’s coming soon from what I understand.


We just have to get men to go to the doctor now, right?

Yes, we do. We have a new, we have great urologist. It’s gonna be a separate department, like it is in most places. So, I think you’ll see urology growing under Martha Terris.

Well, I congratulate you on the progress that you’re making. I thank you for the preview of your speech.


And I wish you all the best, Dr. Hess.

Always good to be here, Brad. Thanks for inviting me. Absolutely. Dean David Hess of the Medical College of Georgia. When we come back, one of Dr. Hess’ colleagues talking about Healthy Georgia. Are we eating right? Are we exercising? How are things going health-wise? All over The Peach State on The Means Report. Welcome back to The Means Report. We appreciate Dean David Hess from the Medical College of Georgia.