A cohort of nine students at the Medical College of Georgia have had their pinning ceremony after finishing medical school in three years, instead of the usual four years.
The students are part of the Peach State Scholars program, which began in 2020. This is the third cohort of students to graduate under the program. To be part of the program, the students must agree to serve in a rural or underserved area. In return, they receive a scholarship.
“They have just as many credit hours and it’s just as intense as it is in four years. It’s just compacted. So, don’t think it’s medical school light. It’s not. It’s medical school. It’s pretty intensive. It’s like medical school boot camp, “said Dr. David Hess, Dean of the Medical College of Georgia.
The program was jumped-started with a $5.2 million contribution from the Peach State Health Plan in 2021. Gov. Brian Kemp matched that amount. In the 2022 legislative session, Georgia lawmakers approved contributing $8.7 million. That was matched by the Medical College of Georgia Foundation.
“Peach State Health Plan is a national leader in managed long-term services and support, they boast five million managed care members, many of whom live in rural communities that we all know and hear about. And it’s one of America’s largest providers of managed care services for our military families and veterans,” said Russell Keen, executive vice president for external relations at Augusta University.
Dr. James Richardson, chief medical director at Peach State Health Plan, said the goal is to level the playing field for people in rural areas where primary care and specialties are not available.
“Many have to drive many miles, or they stay home and not get the care that they need. So, we’re trying to bring the care to the areas that don’t have it,” he said. “The goal is wellness and not sick care. We want to prevent just like everywhere else, where you know in the cities and other places is easier to get appointments to get in to see primary care doctors.”
One of those who will bring specialty care to patients in an underserved area is Blayne Thomason Santa Maria, who is pursuing OB/GYN medicine. She grew up in Dalton, GA., and believes that gives her a unique perspective.
“I remember growing up in my hometown, there was not an option to go see a female OBGYN, and I know for a lot of people that can make them uncomfortable, especially if they have like any kind of trauma or they just don’t feel comfortable talking to a male about their female problems,” she explained. “I want to offer that, so that everybody can be comfortable and get the help that they need.”
Richardson said this program is what it takes to train the next generation of doctors. It gives them all the tools they will need to be successful in caring for patients in rural and underserved areas of Georgia.
Hess said the program also helps keep Georgia at the forefront of attractive places for people and new businesses to move to the Peach State.
“People don’t want to move where it’s not a good health system and physician,” he said. “You really can’t develop rural areas if there’s not a good health system, clinic, and physician. So, they’re really important to the economic development of Georgia.”
After completing their residency, the students will have the opportunity to choose where they want to go to fulfill their commitment to provide medical care in unserved and underserved areas of Georgia.