New South Georgia medical school graduates 59 new physicians


ATLANTA – Facing a chronic shortage of physicians in mostly rural South Georgia, the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, which already had a branch campus in Gwinnett County, launched Georgia’s first medical school south of Macon in 2019.

In May, the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine South Georgia graduated its first class of 51 students. A new class of 59 first-year students will arrive at the Moultrie campus this month.

“The experiment is working,” Bryan Ginn Jr., chief campus officer at the college's branch in Suwanee, told an audience of South Georgia political and business leaders late last month at a forum on workforce development sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. “We’re delighted by that.”

Moultrie was a natural fit for the school to set up shop. Its central location in the region provides easy access to population centers in Albany, Tifton, Thomasville, and Valdosta.

Also, the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine already had established a hospital residency program for graduates at Colquitt Regional Medical Center in Moultrie.

A major barrier to workforce development in rural areas across the country has been convincing young people who grew up in rural settings to go back after they graduate from college or other post-secondary training to start their professional careers.

“The [South Georgia] students we were bringing into Suwanee from rural communities were not going back where they were raised,” said Joanne Jones, chief of campus operations at the South Georgia college. “We’re sending our students down to South Georgia to try to get them to come back home.”

The strategy is paying off. Of the 51 graduates in the first class, 15 are participating in residency programs inside the state, including four at Colquitt Regional and two at Archbold Memorial Hospital in Thomasville.

“It’s really good that they’re staying in the state,” school spokeswoman Cindy Montgomery said. “Those who don’t are still going to rural areas. … They chose us because they’re interested in rural medicine.”

Allison Tresner, one of the graduates doing her residency in family medicine and psychiatry at Colquitt Regional, isn’t from Georgia. But the Michigan native said she was drawn to stay in South Georgia after graduation because she likes the region’s Midwestern vibe.

“South Georgia has been very welcoming,” she said. “The people are nice and genuine and make you feel like family.”

Tresner said she gravitated toward health care as a career early in life after losing her father to complications from diabetes. She chose family medicine during clinical rotations at the school, the time when medical students learn various specialties first hand.

“I liked everything,” she said. “They say if you like everything in health care, family medicine is for you. … I really like the continuity of care. I can be with patients all of their lives.”

Tresner said she is proud to have been a member of the first graduating class of physicians.

“We were the pioneers,” she said. “It was very special to be part of the program from the beginning.”

Whether Tresner remains in South Georgia after she completes her residency is a decision she has yet to make.

“I like to keep an open mind,” she said. “I would have to find a place to beat this. I haven’t found it.”

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine South Georgia soon will get some company educating and training physicians in the region.

Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia, the state’s only public medical school, plans to open a branch at Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong campus in Savannah in the fall of next year. The new campus will allow the college to accept 40 more students per year.

“Georgia ranks 40th in the nation for both the number of active physicians and the number of primary care doctors,” said Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, whose South Georgia district includes portions of the Savannah area. “Georgia needs more doctors, and I’m proud we are making this investment in our future.”