School of Medicine announces 2023 Nathan Deal Scholars

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Governor Nathan Deal and 2023 Nathan Deal Scholars
The 2023 Nathan Deal Scholars surround, from left, School of Medicine Dean Dr. Jean Sumner, Mercer President William D. Underwood, former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, Chief of Staff Terry England, and Speaker of the House Jon Burns. Photo by John Knight

MACON/SAVANNAH/COLUMBUS — Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) recently recognized 17 new Nathan Deal Scholars for the 2023-24 academic year.

Nathan Deal Scholars are eligible based on their strong ties to rural Georgia and selected by their character, leadership qualities, community involvement and their likelihood of serving in rural, underserved Georgia even after their scholarship obligations are met. They will receive 85%-100% of tuition for up to four academic years.

The scholarship is an endowment funded by a one-time appropriation of $35 million from the state of Georgia. These funds were proceeds of a settlement the state received from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in February 2016.

Former Gov. Nathan Deal, who was Georgia’s governor at the time of the settlement, and state legislative leadership committed half the settlement funds to Mercer University School of Medicine honoring the dedication exhibited in furthering the School’s mission to educate physicians who practice in the state’s rural counties.

“The Nathan Deal Scholarship enables and supports students who want to return to rural communities to become outstanding physicians. These scholars represent the highest commitment to providing excellent health care to rural Georgians,” said Jean R. Sumner, M.D., dean of MUSM. “These scholarships remove the significant financial burden of medical school debt, which has been perceived as an obstacle for doctors going to rural areas. With this opportunity, students are empowered to return to communities who need them most, the small towns they know and love.”

This year’s class of Nathan Deal Scholars includes:

  • Maria Balderas of Tifton (Class of 2027)
  • Sydnee Burke of Bainbridge (Class of 2027)
  • Amber Castleberry of Barnesville (Class of 2025)
  • Abbie Earnest of Donalsonville (Class of 2027)
  • Tiera Evans of Sparta (Class of 2027)
  • Lillian Fagan of Moultrie (Class of 2027)
  • Lendley Gibbs of Fitzgerald (Class of 2027)
  • Madison Abbott Huff of Monticello (Class of 2027)
  • Chloe Johnson of Warrenton (Class of 2027)
  • Megan Kral of Hoschton (Class of 2026)
  • Gabrielle Newsome of Cedartown (Class of 2026)
  • Kara Hubbard Patrick of Richland (Class of 2027)
  • Bronson Pierce of Rome (Class of 2027)
  • Lamonica Shinholster of Haddock (Class of 2026)
  • Garrett Streat of Nicholls (Class of 2027)
  • Haley Thompson of Metter (Class of 2027)
  • Bailey Vickers of Wrightsville (Class of 2027)

These 17 M.D. students join 86 other Nathan Deal Scholars in supporting MUSM’s mission. The program’s first four scholars have completed residency requirements and are taking their places in rural, underserved areas of Georgia.

Mercer chose to place the $35 million into an endowment to perpetually provide these scholarships and over 10 years prepare more than 100 doctors who will serve the 120 rural-designated counties of Georgia. Over $11 million in scholarships have been awarded since the program began in 2017.

“The Nathan Deal Scholars will make a difference in quality of life, economic development, and the health status of Georgians,” added Dr. Sumner. “Mercer University School of Medicine is solidly committed to our mission to serve rural Georgia.”

The 2023 scholars were honored during a luncheon on Sept. 22. Attending were Deal, Mercer University President William D. Underwood, Georgia Speaker of the House Jon Burns, Chief of Staff Terry England, and state legislators.

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 Hospital in Columbus. The School also offers a master’s degree in preclinical sciences, a Ph.D. in rural health sciences in Macon and a master’s degree in family therapy in Macon and Atlanta.