July 16, 2008

Officials Unfazed By Campus Delay

By Lee Shearer

ATHENS, Ga. - Classes almost surely won't begin on a new Athens medical school campus in 2009, as planners hoped - but those planners are voicing few regrets about the yearlong delay.

"That's probably not a bad thing," said Athens Regional Medical Center CEO Jack Drew, one of dozens of people in Athens and Augusta working to build a medical school campus in Athens to remedy a shortage of doctors in the state.

Planning for the school entered a new phase last week as dean candidates began visiting Athens and a national accrediting agency approved preliminary plans for the campus.

The agency, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, is expected to come to Athens in spring 2009 for an inspection.

"There has to be evidence of a lot of progress made by the time they come in to talk to people," said Douglas Miller, the dean of the Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine.

The broad plan adopted by the state Board of Regents includes simple elements: The Athens school must have buildings with rooms equipped to teach medical students, a curriculum or course of study, and teachers and administrators.

Medical campus planners also are counting on area hospitals to become part of graduate medical education after formal medical school, when doctors learn by working in hospitals or medical practices for three years or more.

Officials at UGA and MCG say they are on track to have buildings and classrooms ready by 2010, if not sooner, and to hire faculty and administrators for the new campus.

A renovated mill should be ready for medical school accreditors to inspect by spring, said UGA Architect Danny Sniff. Workers this month are removing much of the guts of the historic mill.

The medical campus will move to the Supply Corps School when the U.S. Navy vacates it in 2011.

Transforming the campus by 2015 will cost an estimated $41 million, according to a report by consultant firm Tripp Umbach.

When the campus opens, 40 students will join the first class, according to the firm's blueprint for the school, but that number will grow to 60 by 2012.

Dr. Miller said he hopes to see a campus dean begin work no later than the spring.

Originally published by Lee Shearer Morris News Service.

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