MACON/SAVANNAH/COLUMBUS – Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) is restructuring its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts to assure effective support in all areas on all campuses.

“This is important work, and as we grow we want to assure there is a strong presence on each campus,” said Jean Sumner, M.D., FACP, dean of the School of Medicine.

A new department to support underrepresented in medicine (URiM) students was recently established and will be led by Wanda Thomas, senior director of underrepresented in medicine and chief diversity officer. This dedicated department will be present on all three campuses in Macon, Savannah and Columbus within the Office of Student Affairs and Support Services. The purpose of the office and each campus director of URiM is to serve as a qualified, easily accessible point of contact for students.

The department will assure and enhance the academic support, counseling and planning resources already offered by Student Affairs by taking into consideration the particular needs of URiM students. Each campus director of URiM will be available to support students on a personal level through wellness checks, financial counseling and mental health resources; on a professional level through career counseling and mentorship; and on an organizational level by supporting student associations such as the Latino Medical Student Association and the Student National Medical Association.

Under Thomas’ direction, the directors of underrepresented in medicine will be Terri Walker on the Macon campus, Vanessa Wallace-Lonon on the Savannah campus and LaQuanta Hamilton on the Columbus campus. These uniquely talented individuals will undergo additional training as the School moves forward, Dr. Sumner said.

“Our students have asked for more support, and we listened,” said Dr. Sumner. “By creating a department with a designated staff person on each campus providing support, information and resources for URiM students, we’re ensuring that students on all of our campuses receive the tools and resources they need to succeed in medical school and beyond.”

The department will work closely with Ansley Booker, Ph.D., director of diversity and inclusion initiatives at Mercer, who will serve as an ex officio member of the MUSM Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Senior Director of Underrepresented in Medicine and Chief Diversity Officer Wanda Thomas will oversee all diversity and inclusion efforts at the School of Medicine.

“The mission of this initiative is to cultivate a holistic learning environment dedicated to enhancing our students’ cultural competencies, awareness and sensitivity while embracing diversity, equity, access and inclusion for all students, faculty, staff and patients,” said Dr. Booker. “The ultimate goal is for our future practitioners to not only be empathic, compassionate providers but to also demonstrate cultural humility in an ever-evolving multicultural society.”

Thomas, who previously served as assistant dean of diversity, equity and inclusion for the School, will also take on the role of chief diversity officer, ensuring diversity – one of MUSM’s core values – is applied in all academic activities and strategic initiatives, including hiring, admissions, curriculum and program development.

“Diversity is about being inclusive, welcoming and fair. As chief diversity officer, my role will be to lead the School’s ongoing effort to put diversity at the forefront of everything we do,” said Thomas. “The role of senior director of URiM will allow me to work with each campus URiM director to unify the diversity initiatives across our campuses to reinforce our identity as one school.”

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 a full four-year campus in Savannah in 2008 at Memorial University Medical Center. In 2012, the School began offering clinical education for third- and fourth-year medical students in Columbus. Following their second year, students participate in core clinical clerkships at the School’s primary teaching hospitals: Medical Center, Atrium Health Navicent in Macon; Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah; and Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. The School also offers master’s degrees in family therapy, preclinical sciences and biomedical sciences and a Ph.D. in rural health sciences.

Katherine Lybarger is the marketing and communications specialist at Mercer University School of Medicine.