Regents approve $400,000 for Athens Regional's residency program

Athens Regional Medical Center is getting another $431,000 installment from the state to help it start what will be the largest of Georgia's new training program for beginning physicians.

The Graduate Medical Education Committee of the Board of Regents voted unanimously Tuesday morning for the grant. The full board routinely accepts the committee's recommendation and is expected to do so again Tuesday afternoon.

The grant is part of the state's ongoing effort to help hospitals around Georgia create 400 slots for the residency training required before a medical-school graduate can practice medicine unsupervised. Athens Regional is gearing up to provide 102 of them, or one-quarter of the goal.

"They do comprise the largest single partner in our efforts," said Ben Robinson, the University System of Georgia's point man for the grants.

The regents awarded a $200,000 grant to the hospital last year which went to pay half of the startup costs for hiring academic administrators, preparing coursework and the reams of paperwork required to earn accreditation. The hospital is paying the balance, as well as the cost of constructing classrooms, offices and other facilities for the students and faculty.

A similar grant of $300,000 went last year to St. Mary's Health Care System in Athens as well as grants to other hospitals across the state.

Another two years or preparation is required before the first 36 residents will arrive to Athens Regional July, 2016. Then, the state funding ends.

"I wanted to show that a lot of work is being done," Robinson told the committee. "This program is beginning to really move forward."

Dr. Jonathan Murrow, the cardiologist heading the academic efforts at Athens Regional, told the regents that part of the next phase of the startup includes training the physicians already on staff in the hospital how to be teachers. Other efforts are under way to coordinate with the University of Georgia and Georgia Regents University and to begin conducting research on site that is funded through grants and contracts.

Research isn't the only function. The new faculty and medical residents will be operating a clinic to see local patients.

"We view the development of these programs as one way to meet the needs in Athens," he said, noting that the city already has a shortage of physicians