The Health Professions Academic Building at Georgia Southern University in Savannah, as well as the university's nearby Armstrong Center, would house the planned Medical College of Georgia campus. Credit: Georgia Southern University

Georgia’s only public medical school plans to open a four-year campus in Savannah by fall 2024, as the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University on Thursday announced approval of state funding to expand to Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong campus on the city’s south side.

This story also appeared in Georgia Public Broadcasting

Although MCG already operates a clinical program in Savannah for third- and fourth-year medical students, the planned four-year campus would become only the city’s second full-fledged medical school, pending approval by accreditors at the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. Savannah’s only other four-year offering is run by the private Mercer University School of Medicine.

“Savannah is short of physicians — and not just Savannah, but the whole [of] Southeast Georgia,” MCG dean Dr. David Hess said. “Below [Interstate] 16, the health measures and the health outcomes in Georgia are a lot worse than they are north of I-16. So, where you train, you’re more likely to practice — and if not in Savannah, somewhere in Southeast Georgia.”

Hess said that a four-year Savannah campus is sorely needed not only due to the region’s physician shortage, but also because MCG’s main location in Augusta — which currently enrolls just 204 students — is “pretty much out of space.”

Prospective medical students wishing to attend the new campus would note their preferences for Savannah in their application. The expansion would allow MCG to accept 40 more students annually, increasing its annual class size to 304.

“We always try to respect students’ wishes,” Hess said of the current application process, in which students state their preference for either Augusta or Athens, which currently enrolls 60 students. “Sometimes they may get their second choice. You don’t always get your first choice. But, they usually end up liking [their education] no matter where they go.”

Hess predicted that Savannah would be an especially popular choice among students, considering that MCG has a close working relationship with the 330-bed St. Joseph’s Hospital, located less than 1 mile away from where the MCG Savannah campus will be located.

St. Joseph’s/Candler CEO Paul Hinchey in a statement called the planned campus a “sentinel event not only for the future of health care in Georgia, but also for Savannah and the region,” adding that the hospital system’s physicians have already served as faculty proving “instrumental” to MCG’s current third- and fourth-year Savannah students.

This story comes to The Current GA through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

Benjamin is the Savannah-based reporter for GPB, where he covers Coastal Georgia. Prior to coming to Savannah, he freelanced in Bellingham, Washington, for public media outlets including NPR, Marketplace,...