A Special Relationship: Inside the GHSU/UGA Medical Partnership

GHSU/UGA Partnership Creates Unique Dynamic for Medical Students
By Robyn Abree

Medical students at the Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU) campus in Athens have mixed feelings about being registered for school in Augusta but actually studying in a different college town. On paper, the academic partnership between the University of Georgia (UGA) and GHSU makes Athens med students apart of both worlds. However, some students say the relationship is not as seamless as it may sound.

Because partnership students pay UGA fees on top of their GHSU tuition, they are entitled to the same services and amenities as a typical UGA student. Perks include access to the bus system, health center, and recreation services as well as eligibility to purchase sports tickets, meal plans, and live in graduate housing. In practice though, some partnership students say they don’t reap all these benefits.

“I don’t see why we have to pay all the fees if we don’t use them,” said Kayla Koch, a second-year medical student who objects to paying all the UGA costs, especially the transportation fee. Since she drives every morning to campus, Koch hasn’t used the bus system in the two years she has been a partnership student.

Most of Koch’s classmates agree with her, but some find the UGA health center fee to be the most annoying and least essential. Since many students already have their own primary care physicians, they rarely visit the health center, said Cheney Fenn, a second-year partnership student.

However, there are two fees that students unanimously embrace: the student activities fee and the athletic fee. Paying these fees allow partnership students to participate in UGA intramural sports, gain access to the Ramsey fitness center, and buy tickets for sporting events. Still, they said access to these services is not perfect.

“Since we’re not registered in the system yet, we basically crash it if we use our student ID’s at Ramsey,” Koch said. As a result, she said med students always have to seek out a Ramsey employee to let them through the security gates.

Last year Fenn was upset when she missed emails about the deadline for purchasing football tickets. It turns out med students weren’t in the system for that either.

Inconveniences aside, most students aren’t harboring grudges against either institution.

“When those issues come up, I think UGA tries to handle them as best they can,” said Paul Baker, a second-year partnership student. “It’s more that they haven’t figured out how to deal with us yet rather than purposely excluding us from the system.”

Regardless of the errors, Fenn considers herself more a UGA student than GHSU student. “It’s not because of the fees, but because of the overall atmosphere,” Fenn said. “We’re constantly around UGA students and interacting with them. I haven’t spoke to a single [GHSU] student since I’ve been here.”

Koch, on the other hand, says the hiccups in the system make her feel less apart of either university. “I don’t consider myself a UGA student or a [GHSU] student because the curriculum is so different from the Augusta campus’s and we are distanced from UGA,” Koch said. “We’re kind of our own separate entity. I don’t think we fit into either world.”

The partnership isn’t supposed to make students feel detached from either institution, but instead apart of both said Dr. Cheryl Dickson, associate dean for student and multicultural affairs. “It’s an interesting dynamic,” Dickson said, “because in many ways they are very much UGA students, and in other ways they are very much GHSU students.” Overall, Dickson hopes that as the med school matures, being apart of two colleges will offer partnership students the best of both worlds.

Building a New Identity
By: Jessika Boedeker

The University of Georgia (UGA) is steeped in tradition. The identity of the institution leaps to mind when anyone refers to The Arch, Between the Hedges, or Uga VIII.

The Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU) – UGA Medical Partnership has a long way to go before that happens. Many people don’t know that the old mill building once known as O’Malley’s, across the railroad tracks from the main body of the UGA campus, is home to a new medical school campus launched by Medical College of Georgia (MCG), housed in Augusta, and UGA. Recognition isn’t helped by the launch of the new, GHSU umbrella that includes the venerable MCG name.

Only 80 first- and second-year students are on campus now, and there won’t be a GHSU – UGA Medical Partnership diploma on any doctor’s wall for several more years.

MCG and UGA joined forces to expand the physician workforce in Georgia, which is chronically short on doctors, by launching what will eventually be a four-year medical education program in Athens. This partnership puts the Athens medical students in a unique position. They are officially considered students at both MCG and UGA, but are not attached to either.

Their building is not on UGA’s main campus and most of their classmates are 90 miles away.

“I don’t feel like a MCG or UGA student because the curriculum is so different here compared to Augusta and our medical campus is distant from the UGA campus. We are sort of our own entity,” said Kayla Koch, a 2nd year medical student at the UGA campus.

“Partnership” is an odd word for the relationship between the Augusta and Athens medical students. The students in Athens travel to Augusta twice a year: in Fall for the colorful white coat ceremony that marks their entry into the world of clinical medicine, and in spring to sit for the annual exams that mark the end of every med student’s first year.

In short, out-of-state students probably go home more often than they travel to their Augusta campus.

“At orientation they said we were going to be doing video conferences and having a lot of interaction with the Augusta campus but we haven’t done any of that,” said Cheney Fenn, a 2nd year medical student at the UGA campus.

Although they sometimes feel disconnected from the rest of MCG, medical students in Athens have something going for them that prevents any kind of identity meltdown– a robust program with an overwhelming workload. This is especially true during their first couple of years before they start in the clinical arena.

“I haven’t built any relationships with the Augusta students. We are too busy; I barely have time for my normal friends, you know, our friends outside of school, so no I don’t think I would maintain a relationship with students from Augusta.” said Fenn.

On the financial side, tuition payments go to MCG Augusta and campus fees are collected by UGA. But that’s misleading.

“Students aren’t actually entered into the UGA system because they are not registered UGA students, so we built a list and sent it to everywhere they might show up such as the Ramsey Center or football games,” said Dr. Cheryl Dickson, Associate Dean of Student and Multicultural Affairs.

Med students have access to UGA facilities, but finding time to use them can be a different story. Most of the students spend the majority of their time either at the medical building, studying, or at home eating or sleeping. Don’t expect to run into one of these bold pioneers on a Friday night pub-crawl.

While there may be a lack of identity and tradition today, these medical students know they are making history as members of the inaugural med school classes in Athens. Their identity begins here, but it will take shape as they move on, building their tradition as physicians who make a difference and whose careers started at UGA.

Robyn Abree

Robyn Abree

Robyn Abree is a second year master’s student interested in covering nutrition, fitness and other forms of prevention. She spent summer 2011 interning at GivingPoint, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that educates youth about health and public service.She created a “Positive Living” lesson plan and quiz that promotes active, healthy lifestyles among teens. Robyn has also written for Georgia Engineer magazine, Georgia Health News, and BLVD magazine.

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