School of Medicine dean receives Georgia Commission on Women Lighthouse Award 

Dr. Jean Sumner headshot

MACON/COLUMBUS/SAVANNAH — Mercer University School of Medicine Dean Jean R. Sumner, M.D., FACP, received the Lighthouse Award from the Georgia Commission on Women during the group’s annual Champions for Change Day at the Georgia State Capitol on Feb. 22.

Several awards were presented during the annual event. The Lighthouse Award is given to a Georgia woman whose efforts have shined a light on solutions to problems and made lives better for Georgia families.

The award was presented to Dr. Sumner by Sallie Barker, Georgia Commission on Women member and director of health services with the Georgia Department of Corrections.

“Dr. Sumner has been raising the health care bar in Georgia all her career, and there are many accomplishments over the decades for which she richly deserves recognition,” Barker said. “However, the Lighthouse Award is not about then. It’s about what she’s doing now to improve health care access and outcomes for Georgians.”

Dr. Sumner has always cared deeply about the health of rural communities. A third-generation Georgia physician, she has served in rural Georgia most of her career, practicing medicine in Washington and Johnson counties before becoming dean in 2016. During her tenure at the School of Medicine, Dr. Sumner has overseen the opening of primary care clinics in six rural counties, the expansion of the medical school to Columbus, and the development of three scholarship programs focused on supporting medical students from rural areas to return to their hometowns as physicians.

“Practicing medicine in a rural, underserved area of Georgia was and remains a challenging, meaningful and wonderful experience,” said Dr. Sumner. “I am eternally grateful to Mercer and the support and guidance from my family that gave me that opportunity.”

“When Dr. Sumner puts her mind to something, things start happening,” Barker said. “By analyzing need and identifying barriers, she is creating many lighthouses — like campuses, investments, partnerships and pathways — to guide country doctors in the pursuit of their dreams and service to their hometowns.”

Georgia consistently ranks near or at the bottom in access to health care, notably in rural counties. The Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce reports that seven counties have no physician at all, and another seven have only one physician. All of these counties are rural, which is defined as having a population of 50,000 or less.

“The people of rural Georgia deserve access to high quality health care. Rural communities, with physician-led, high quality, accessible, sustainable health care, can potentially be the healthiest part of Georgia,” Dr. Sumner said. “Long-term relationships and continuity are important in this effort. A healthy rural Georgia is important, not only to rural citizens but also to the entire state, to our state. I am deeply honored to work with so many who are committed to assuring high-quality care to all citizens.”

A member of Mercer School of Medicine’s first graduating class in 1986, Dr. Sumner became a community faculty preceptor for the medical school upon completing her internal medicine residency at Atrium Health Navicent (then The Medical Center of Central Georgia) in Macon. A graduate of Medical College of Georgia School of Nursing, she earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing before receiving her medical degree from Mercer. A member of Sigma Theta Tau, the honor society of nursing and Alpha Omega Alpha, the honor society of medicine, Dr. Sumner returned to Washington and Johnson counties to practice with other family members. She is board certified in internal medicine.

Dr. Sumner became associate dean for rural health in 2014 and has held a succession of leadership positions over the years. She has served as hospital chief of staff and nursing home medical director, as well as a board member, chair, and president of numerous community and statewide professional organizations. At the state level, she served as a governor-appointed member, president and medical director of the Georgia Composite Medical Board.

In 2020, Dr. Sumner received the Ralph O. Claypoole Sr. Memorial Award from the American College of Physicians — the first Georgian to receive the prestigious award. She is also a fellow of the American College of Physicians.

Dr. Sumner is married to Joe Sumner, a pharmacist. They have two children and four granddaughters.

About the Georgia Commission on Women

The Georgia Commission on Women was created in 1992 by the Georgia General Assembly and Gov. Zell Miller to monitor the status, rights and opportunities of women in Georgia. The Georgia Commission on Women is dedicated to making life better for the women of Georgia and their families. Fifteen Georgians make up the commission, and the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the House nominate them for four-year terms. Our members, appointed from all regions of the state, are devoted to the health, education, employment and legal status of women in Georgia.

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 master’s degrees in preclinical sciences and family therapy and Ph.D.s in biomedical sciences and rural health sciences.