School of Medicine partners with SGMC Health to open clinical campus in Valdosta  

SGMC Health Main Hospital Valdosta
The Mercer University School of Medicine Valdosta campus will be located in a dedicated Medical Education unit within the main SGMC Health hospital at 2501 N. Patterson St. Photo courtesy SGMC Health

Mercer University School of Medicine announced April 2 that it is partnering with SGMC Health, formerly known as South Georgia Medical Center, to establish a clinical campus in Valdosta, where third- and fourth-year students will live and work for their last two years of medical school.

The goal of developing a clinical site in Valdosta is to allow medical students to experience the high-quality care offered by a tertiary medical center that serves rural communities. This experience furthers support for the School of Medicine’s mission to improve access to health care for rural and underserved areas of Georgia. The first group of 20 third-year medical students will transfer to Valdosta from the Columbus, Macon and Savannah campuses to begin clinical rotations at the site this summer.

“Mercer University School of Medicine is honored to partner with SGMC Health,” said Jean Sumner, M.D., FACP, dean of the School of Medicine. “The opportunity to partner with SGMC gives our students a chance to experience a comprehensive rural hospital environment with excellent physicians, other highly trained professionals and the latest equipment and technology.

“Also, the spirit of commitment to the region and the patients who use SGMC’s services is impressive. Our students are all from Georgia, and many are from South Georgia. Our expectation is that, with this experience, these students will choose to stay in the region to practice.”

The School of Medicine’s Valdosta campus will be located in a dedicated Medical Education unit within the main SGMC Health hospital at 2501 N. Patterson St. Beginning in July, the site will offer all required clerkships and electives of Year 3, as well as the sub-internship, elective and required elective rotations for Year 4 of the M.D. program. SGMC has a 15-county service area, much of which is rural, so this affiliation will advance the School of Medicine’s mission by adding more rural clinical experiences to the clerkship and post-clerkship phases.

“SGMC Health is very proud of our partnership with Mercer University School of Medicine, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to partner in the development of the Valdosta clinical campus,” said SGMC Health President and CEO Ronald E. Dean. “What began as a strategic affiliation to develop residency-training programs at SGMC Health has now given way to an even greater opportunity to expand the pipeline of well-trained physicians for South Georgia. The dedication of our medical staff, employees and volunteers to support this endeavor is commendable and will shape the physician workforce for our health system for years to come.”

This newest clinical campus is further evidence of the School of Medicine’s commitment to its mission to improve access to health care for rural and underserved areas of this state by educating physicians. Mercer only admits Georgia residents and prioritizes students from rural areas. Opening a clinical site in Valdosta expands the school’s reach to a critical medically underserved region. In addition to SGMC Health, students will rotate through clerkships at other regional facilities.

SGMC Health physicians Brian Griner, M.D.; James Davis, M.D.; Anthony Johnson, M.D.; Megan Gallagher, M.D.; Paresh Thanki, M.D.; and Ene Grace Morgan, M.D., have been named clerkship directors. Clerkship coordinator Sibrana Oquendo serves as the main support staff, with other staff positions being added over the summer.

Joseph Hayes, M.D., Mercer School of Medicine alumnus and current designated institutional official at SGMC Health, will lead the Valdosta campus as associate dean.

“We are proud to take this next step in supporting and propelling medical education in South Georgia,” he said. “SGMC Health has assembled an esteemed team of faculty who truly considers it an honor to serve in this capacity, inspiring and leading our next generation of doctors.”

Hayes, Joe in Mercer school of medicine lobby
Dr. Joseph Hayes. Photo by John Knight

Dr. Hayes played a vital role in developing SGMC’s internal medicine residency program in partnership with Mercer. The program launched in 2021, making SGMC Health an official teaching facility. The health system welcomed its first class of internal medicine residents in 2022 and Dr. Hayes, who previously served as a hospitalist, became the medical director for SGMC Internal Medicine at Park Avenue. This practice serves as a continuity clinic for physicians completing their internal medicine residency. He oversees patient care and clinical skills development for the resident physicians in a primary care setting.

“As an alumnus, I have deep appreciation for Mercer’s commitment to excellence in medical education and developing physicians of outstanding character. My own transformative experience as a student laid the foundation for a rewarding career dedicated to improving lives and communities through health care,” Dr. Hayes said.

“In this new role, I look forward to working alongside Mercer’s exceptional faculty and staff to uphold our institution’s legacy while ensuring our curriculum and initiatives remain at the forefront of training future generations of compassionate, skillful doctors. It is a privilege to give back to my alma mater, serve our community and fulfill the Mercer mission.”

Amari Evans is a rising third-year medical student from Valdosta and will be transferring from the Columbus campus to complete her medical education at the new clinical site.

“My first job in health care was at SGMC Health as a medical scribe in the emergency department, so this is a full-circle moment for me. I am very excited to be able to complete my clinical years in Valdosta and to serve the community that has raised me,” she said. “Having a clinical campus in Valdosta contributes to Mercer students’ journey of becoming a successful Georgia physician by giving us an opportunity to serve a wide demographic of patients. I believe that the culture of Valdosta and the mission of MUSM will be a beautiful blend and will attract students to practice in the area.”

SGMC Health is currently constructing a medical simulation center to allow medical practice activities, including standardized patient encounters, to be provided on site in Valdosta. This simulation center will also offer interdisciplinary training sessions in partnership with health professions programs at nearby Valdosta State University. The clinical partners will provide all facilities including clinical skills exam rooms and simulation lab space. SGMC has allocated $250,000 for virtual reality and high-fidelity models for ultrasound and procedural training, which are comparable to those available on the other Mercer School of Medicine campuses.

MUSM’s partnership with SGMC Health began in 2020 with the establishment of an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education-accredited internal medicine residency program, which admitted the first class of interns in July 2022. In August 2022, groups of third-year medical students from the Macon and Savannah campuses began two-week experiences at SGMC Health during clerkship rotations on a voluntary basis.

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

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, and a clinical campus in Valdosta in 2024. 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; Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus; and SGMC Health in Valdosta. The School also offers master’s degrees in preclinical sciences and family therapy and Ph.D.s in biomedical sciences and rural health sciences.

About SGMC Health

SGMC Health is the most comprehensive medical system in South Georgia. Supported by a workforce of more than 3,100 who care for 400,000 patients annually across 15 counties, SGMC operates 4 hospitals (Main, Smith Northview, Berrien, and Lanier), and a multitude of primary care and specialty locations. Service lines with regional prominence include heart and vascular, stroke, trauma, cancer, orthopedics, surgery, and women and infants. SGMC Health’s system yields an annual economic impact of $1 billion and results in 10,000 jobs throughout the communities it serves. SGMC Health is dedicated to the continued development of its workforce, programs, services, and facilities to fulfill its mission of improving the lives of all it serves.