Consultant plan outlines proposal for medical school at UGA

The University of Georgia could open its own medical school, only the second public medical school in the state. (Hyosub Shin / AJC FILE PHOTO)



The University of Georgia could open its own medical school, only the second public medical school in the state. (Hyosub Shin / AJC FILE PHOTO)

The University of Georgia could open its own medical school and enroll students as early as fall 2026, according to a feasibility study released by the university Wednesday.

Hours earlier, Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled budget proposals to spend $50 million for a UGA medical school and $178 million for a dental school at Georgia Southern University.

A Dec. 11 feasibility study prepared by the consulting firm Tripp Umbach on behalf of UGA provides more details on the ambitious medical school plan, intended to address Georgia’s need for more physicians. The Medical College of Georgia, which is part of Augusta University and has a campus in Athens, is currently the state’s only public medical school.

The consultant’s 40-page analysis found that a “UGA School of Medicine is financially feasible and can secure the financial resources to support an independent medical school.”

The report highlighted UGA’s wide range of undergraduate and graduate-level programs, its growth in research funding, its fundraising capability, statewide reach and the existing medical school partnership as among the reasons it could support a new medical school.

The plan considers transitioning the current medical school partnership between UGA and Augusta University to a standalone, independently accredited UGA medical school.

Numerous sign-offs, including budget approvals from the state Legislature and a thumbs-up from the Georgia Board of Regents, which oversees the University System of Georgia, would be needed to proceed.

Sonny Perdue, the University System’s chancellor, said in a statement that he respects the legislative funding process and thanked Kemp “for his strong support in recognizing the importance of educating and training more highly qualified medical professionals in Georgia.”

Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, told reporters Wednesday that he supports a standalone medical school at UGA. He said adding another dental school in Savannah, where Georgia Southern has a campus, also would be a benefit. Currently, the state’s only dental college is also at Augusta University.

Clinical training for UGA medical school students could be available through three area health systems, according to the feasibility study. The report identified Northeast Georgia Health System, Piedmont Healthcare and St. Mary’s Health Care System as interested partners. Those sites could also develop residency training positions, the report noted.

A spokesman for Wellstar Health System, which won approval from the regents last year to take over Augusta University’s hospitals, declined to comment Thursday.

The Athens campus of the Medical College of Georgia opened in 2010 with a class size of 40 students and has since expanded to 60, according to the report.

The feasibility study envisions establishing an independent school within existing facilities in Athens, enrolling the first students as early as fall 2026 and increasing the class size to 72 within a couple years.

The state funding formula allocates money to the University System based largely on enrollment from two years prior. The report suggests the state provide a funding advance of roughly $59 million over five years to start up the new medical school, after which UGA could begin to pay back that bridge funding.

Other startup funding could include about $40 million over six years from UGA and $22.5 million from the UGA Foundation and donors, according to the report.

The study states a UGA medical school could grow to 120 students per class starting by about 2033. That would require additional support, including potentially from corporate and foundation donors, and require a new facility, the plan notes. Under “capital funding” in the proposed second phase of the medical school’s launch, the report includes $70 million from donors such as the UGA Foundation and about $50 million from the state.

The governor’s proposed 2024 amended state budget includes $50 million to match UGA funding for the medical school’s design and construction.

UGA President Jere Morehead declined an interview request through a spokesman. In a statement, he called Kemp’s plan “a natural evolution” of the current partnership with Augusta University. He said a new medical school “will produce even more doctors for our state.”

Augusta University President Brooks Keel used similar language in a statement in which he called the proposal “a natural progression” of the existing partnership in Athens.

The feasibility report says that Georgia faces “a pressing need for more physicians to meet the healthcare demands of its growing population.” It notes the state had just over 25,000 active patient-care physicians in 2021, or 208.5 doctors per 100,000 residents. The national median is 239, according to the report.

Two of Georgia’s private medical schools welcomed the effort to bring more doctors to Georgia. An Emory University spokeswoman said the Atlanta school “supports the governor’s efforts to supply the state with more medical professionals.”

In a statement, Morehouse School of Medicine said opening a new medical school at UGA will help address the state’s doctor shortage. The statement noted that more hospital training slots will be needed and said the Morehouse medical school looks to continue to partner with the state as it expands its class size and seeks opportunities to add more training spots.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.