Med school draws care to Athens

When Athens resident, Ruthann Lariscy’s joints began to ache last Spring, she assumed it was simply a consequence of growing older.

But when the pain persisted and grew more inhabilitating, her general practitioner worried that it was worse than the ails of aging. He referred her to Dr. Will Chafin, a specialist who was new to Athens.

Dr. Chafin was brought to Athens by the Arthritis Center of North Georgia, a practice that began more than 50 miles away in Gainesville.  Before opening an Athens office, the medical group used to take patients in town once a week, but this was deficient in the face of a huge demand. Prior to Chafin and his practice coming to Athens, there were no offices exclusively treating arthritis locally.

Chafin diagnosed Lariscy with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that requires regular treatment, medication and therapy.

Lariscy’s local access to care is one of the things that makes a painful disease more tolerable.

“I’ve had people tell me that I was very lucky to be diagnosed with [rheumatoid arthritis] now,” said Lariscy “because now there is consistant good care here for it.”

Arthritis Center of North Georgia didn’t arrive in Athens exclusively because of the number of residents in need of aid, it was also in response to a new supply of future health practitioners.  In April of 2010, the first 40 students of the GRU/UGA Medical Partnership marked the inaugural class of Athens’ first medical students.  The presence of the medical school is now a draw for aspiring and practicing physicians alike.

“We receive constant contact from people who considering coming to Athens,” said Chafin.  “We’re not even out searching for people, but I think it has a lot to do with the med school being here.”

The increased appeal to doctors was much needed in Athens, a city that was something of an anomaly in terms of healthcare before the establishment of the medical school.

“To be a big university town and for people to have to leave for subspecialty care is kind of unusual,” said Chafin.

Patients and doctors alike have witnessed a recent change in available care here, and many are hopeful that the trend of growth in the medical community continues.

“Healthcare in Athens will different in ten years than it is now,” said Chafin.  “I think it’s changed a lot in the past year, and ten years from now it will be one of the top centers in the state.  I think it will continue to grow and that subspecialty care will continue to grow.”

The relationship between the medical school and the community is mutualistic.  The students learn from the doctors and residents, and the doctors come to teach by tending to the residents.

Dr. Chafin is one of many physicians who is shadowed by a medical student two out of every three months.

“I feel like they keep me young; they keep me wanting to learn,” said Chafin, “I’m trying to teach them stuff, and they can teach me stuff that I haven’t learned in while.”

Lariscy, a long-time and well loved professor at the University of Georgia also enjoys playing a role in education, even as a patient.  She is happy to see the students when they observe her visits with Dr. Chafin.

“I’m so glad now that we have a teaching facility,” said Lariscy, “It’s made a huge difference.”


Jodi Murphy

Jodi Murphy is a graduate student at the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. As an undergraduate student at UGA, she earned a B.A. in English and minors in Spanish and environmental law. She is a contributing writer and former intern at Flagpole magazine in Athens and a former intern at the Mother Nature Network in Atlanta. She spent the past summer as an editorial assistant at Kinfolk Magazine in Portland, OR. She is also a founder and the Editor in Chief of The Seed and Plate, a publication about farming, food and community in the Southeast.

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