Georgia makes progress on medical education, but more work needed, report says

Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville was one of two metro-area hospitals to receive a four-star rating. (Photo: Gwinnett Medical Center)

Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville was one of two metro-area hospitals to receive a four-star rating. (Photo: Gwinnett Medical Center)

Georgia education leaders are on pace to exceed their goal to create new residency positions at teaching hospitals, but the state is still far below the national average, according to a new report.

The Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts report also warned more medical residency positions are needed south of metro Atlanta.

State lawmakers have committed $19 million toward creating more positions with help from the state’s Board of Regents (BOR).

Georgia last year had about 21 residency positions per 100,000 residents, an improvement from 18.5 positions per 100,000 in 2013. The national average, though, is 34 positions per 100,000 residents, the report said. And not many of those positions are in rural Georgia.

“Of nine teaching hospitals funded under the plan, most were located in North Georgia and in metropolitan areas...Efforts to establish more residency programs in the rural, underserved areas of Central and South Georgia were impeded by a lack of hospitals capable of meeting BOR’s patient case mix criteria,” the report said.

The report mirrors recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution coverage that found a doctor shortage in rural Georgia. Sixty-four of the state's 159 counties have no pediatrician. Nine counties have no doctor, period.

The University System of Georgia began work several years ago to create 400 new Graduate Medical Education (GME) residency positions by 2025. The report found the University System has thus far created 262 positions and is on pace to exceed that goal, creating 613 positions by 2025.

“The special examination by the Department of Audits and Accounts (DOAA) acknowledges the success of the GME expansion program but also cites the challenges with growing residency programs in rural areas of the state. Of the 170+ hospitals examined for GME expansion, only seven hospitals in central and South Georgia had the facilities, patient care mix and physician specialties available to develop multiple, high quality GME programs,” the statement said.

Two hospital systems, Wellstar Spalding and Tanner Health System, halted their involvement in the initiative, the report said. Wellstar is studying whether another hospital is better suited to be involved in the program, the report said, while Tanner decided against implementing a program due to changes in its strategic plan and financial concerns, according to state officials.