MCG-UGA student Rutvi Patel slides into her white coat with the help of Ruth-Marie Fincher, M.D., MCG vice dean for academic affairs. Cheryl Dickson, M.D., MCG-UGA associate dean for student & multicultural affairs, removes the next coat from the rack and passes it to Scott Richardson, M.D., MCG-UGA campus associate dean for curriculum.

Two hundred and thirty future physicians slipped into white coats for the first time Saturday, September 25, at Medical College of Georgia’s annual white coat ceremony held at Warren Baptist Church in Augusta.

Among them were 190 first-year med students from MCG’s home campus in Augusta and the 40 who make up the inaugural class at the MCG-UGA Medical Partnership in Athens.  Celebrating the donning of the short white jacket that identifies medical students, in contrast to the longer lab coat that is the privilege of full-fledged M.D.s, is a relatively new tradition in schools of health sciences.

Before a crowd of over six hundred guests, the students entered the church in a processional set to “Pictures at an Exhibition” played on a grand piano.  A coat rack on the stage held the 230 jackets, each embroidered with the student’s name on the pocket. After remarks by student leaders from the Athens and Augusta campuses and by several faculty members, the students were called to the stage one at a time, where Dr. Ruth-Marie Fincher, vice dean for academic affairs, helped them into their coats.

Enrolling the largest class in the history of the medical school, MCG answered a charge by the Association of American Medical Colleges for a 30% increase in U.S. medical school enrollment by 2015.

At the time of the AAMC’s 2006 call to action, MCG’s youngest class was comprised of 180 students.  The college’s new partnership with the University of Georgia made it possible to grow the class by nearly 30% in only three years, said Peter F. Buckley, M.D., interim dean of the School of Medicine.

The MCG-UGA Medical Partnership, located on the University of Georgia campus in Athens, opened its doors for classes on August 9.  The partnership was created to produce more physicians to help remedy Georgia’s critical doctor shortage.  Before the spike in class size at MCG, Georgia was expected to have fewer doctors per capita than any other state by 2020, according to a 2008 study commissioned by MCG.

In 2006, only 50% of recent MCG graduates with confirmed practice plans intended to stay in the state, a drop from 56% in 2002. While many of the 40 first-year students at MCG-UGA say they’d like to stay in the state, they also admit that so early in their training they don’t know what type of medicine they will practice or where.

Among those most needed in the physician workforce are minority doctors, particularly blacks and Hispanics.  While MCG has rapidly increased its enrollment in the last three years, the increase has been largely in the number of white students. At the Athens campus are two black students and one Latino.

A physician need not be black or Hispanic to work with underserved populations, but studies show that black and Hispanic medical school grads are more than twice as likely as whites to do so.  Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans comprise more than 25% of the U.S. population, but they represent only 6% of physicians.

Sonya Collins

Sonya Collins

Sonya Collins is an independent journalist whose recent stories about public health, medicine and biomedical research have appeared in Yale Medicine magazine, [email protected], and print and online publications served by the Georgia Public Health News Bureau.  She has also contributed news stories, columns, features and travel pieces to local and regional publications in New York, Georgia, and Brazil.  While earning an M.A. in Health & Medical Journalism at the University of Georgia, Sonya was a two-time science writing fellow at research conferences sponsored by the National Academies of Science and held in Irvine, CA.

Before becoming a journalist, Sonya earned an M.F.A. in creative writing at The New School, where she was a teaching fellow. She has also taught writing at Hunter College of the City University of New York, where she earned her B.A., and at the University of Georgia. During her teaching stint at UGA, she contributed an article on author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) to the Encyclopedia of Contemporary American Fiction published in 2010.

Fluent in Portuguese, Sonya has translated literary and scholarly texts for publication.  She lived in Brazil for two years, where she wrote a collection of essays about life on the island of Florianópolis.