Dr. Keisha Callins named inaugural Sandra Dunagan Deal Rural Service Fellow

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keisha callins holds her award while standing next to former governor nathan deal
Former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal presents the Sandra Dunagan Deal Rural Service Fellow award to Keisha Callins, MD, MPH, during MUSM commencement exercises in May. Photo by Christopher Ian Smith

MACON — Keisha Reneé Callins, MD, MPH, received the inaugural Sandra Dunagan Deal Rural Service Fellow award, established in September 2022 by Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) to honor former first lady of Georgia Sandra Deal and her commitment to education, volunteerism and community involvement.

This award recognizes a faculty member, community partner or volunteer who has made significant contributions to mentoring, inspiring and encouraging Mercer medical students to care for Georgians in rural, underserved areas, furthering the School’s mission. Each year, Nathan Deal Scholars select the recipient who best exemplifies Sandra Deal’s selfless devotion, love for education and promotion of excellence.

“Right from the beginning of our medical education, Dr. Callins has been supportive and allowed us the opportunity to reach out to her for anything,” said Alicia May, rising fourth-year medical student and Nathan Deal Scholar. “Knowing her impact on us students and on her patients in rural areas encourages me to have those same qualities. I believe that she is a wonderful example and is so deserving of this award.”

Dr. Callins is a physician, public health leader and advocate for rural, underserved patients. She serves as an obstetrician-gynecologist in Twiggs and Jones counties, as well as on the MUSM faculty as a clinical professor. She is the immediate past chair of the National Advisory Council for the National Health Service Corps and a former National Health Service Corps Scholar.

Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Dr. Callins to the Georgia Composite Medical Board in 2014, and the Sandra Dunagan Deal Early Language and Literacy Board in 2017. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Healthcare Georgia Foundation, Georgia State Medical Association, and Bibb County Medical Society, and is chair of the Medical Association of Georgia Task Force on Physician/Health Care Workforce Resilience. Locally, she provides gynecologic services to patients at the Macon Volunteer Clinic and residents of the Brookdale Resource Center.

“Dr. Callins has proven herself to be most deserving of the inaugural Sandra Dunagan Deal Rural Service Fellow Award,” said MUSM Dean Jean Sumner, MD, FACP. “She is committed to providing the highest quality of health care to all Georgians but especially to those with most need. Her service is a shining example to our students and an incredible asset to our communities.”

A graduate of Leadership Georgia, Dr. Callins holds MUSM’s Joy McCann Endowed Professorship. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in biology from the University of Virginia; Master of Public Health from the University of Alabama; and Doctor of Medicine from Morehouse School of Medicine. She is a member of Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.

“This is yet another opportunity to highlight and honor the legacy of our dear former first lady, Sandra Dunagan Deal,” Dr. Callins said. “This award will help to ensure that the depth and breadth of her dedication will continue to inspire generations for many years to come.”

Dr. Callins received the award during MUSM’s commencement ceremony on May 6 in the presence of former Gov. Deal, who assisted Mercer President William D. Underwood in awarding the recognition. The former first lady died in 2022.

Sandra Dunagan Deal taught language arts for over 15 years in Hall County. Her passion for quality education for all children was evidenced by incredible leadership throughout her life but especially during her tenure as Georgia’s first lady. She advocated for literacy and education throughout the state, personally visiting 159 counties and 181 school systems where she read to students. For her work, she was named “Georgian of the Year” in 2016. In 2017, the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy was founded at Georgia College & State University to promote universal literacy throughout the state, with a purpose of assuring every child could read proficiently.

About Mercer University School of Medicine (Macon, Savannah and Columbus) 

Mercer University’s School of Medicine was established in 1982 to educate physicians and health professionals to meet the primary care and health care needs of rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia. Today, more than 60 percent of graduates currently practice in the state of Georgia, and of those, more than 80 percent are practicing in rural or medically underserved areas of Georgia. Mercer medical students benefit from a problem-based medical education program that provides early patient care experiences. Such an academic environment fosters the early development of clinical problem-solving and instills in each student an awareness of the place of the basic medical sciences in medical practice. The School opened additional four-year M.D. campuses in Savannah in 2008 and in Columbus in 2021. Following their second year, students participate in core clinical clerkships at the School’s primary teaching hospitals: Atrium Health Navicent The Medical Center and Piedmont Macon Medical Center in Macon; Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah; and Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital and St. Francis-Emory Healthcare in Columbus. The School also offers master’s degrees in preclinical sciences and biomedical sciences and a Ph.D. in rural health sciences in Macon and a master’s degree in family therapy in Macon and Atlanta.