Historic choice has big plans for med school

VMR headshot
Valerie Montgomery Rice

Morehouse School of Medicine’s next president says graduating more physicians and helping to fill Georgia’s primary care gap will remain major goals for the Atlanta medical institution.

Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice will replace Dr. John Maupin, who is retiring, as the Morehouse School of Medicine president in 2014, the school recently announced.

Montgomery Rice, who’s currently dean of the school, will be the first African-American woman to head a free-standing U.S. medical school, Morehouse says.

“We will continue and expand our commitment to train more primary care physicians,’’ Montgomery Rice said this week in a GHN interview.

Georgia and the nation as a whole have a shortage of primary care physicians, especially in rural and inner-city areas. The state’s population has been increasing faster than its supply of primary care doctors.

Morehouse School of Medicine graduated 53 M.D. students this past year, and has an entering class of 70 this coming year, with the large majority of them being Georgia residents, she said. “We hope to have a class of 100 students’’ in three to four years, she added. “We are clearly on a path to expand the class size.’’

The state has had a “doctor export problem.’’ Three of every four graduates of Georgia medical schools in 2011 went to do their residency training in other states. That’s important because the bulk of physicians end up practicing within 60 miles of where they did their training.

More than 60 percent of Morehouse Medical School M.D. graduates, though, practice medicine in Georgia, Montgomery Rice said. With the number of Morehouse medical grads in Georgia, the school “brings a wonderful return on investment for the state,’’ she said. “It’s our responsibility to be part of the solution.’’

The majority of Morehouse patient care and clinical training occurs at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

Montgomery Rice, who will also remain dean at Morehouse School of Medicine, wants the school to continue training students on the concept of a patient-centered medical home. That’s a care delivery model by which patients’ treatment is coordinated through a primary care physician, to ensure the patients receive all the various kinds of care they need.

Morehouse is also training students who lack extensive science backgrounds — and working with two other colleges on training veterans returning from war to prepare to attend physician assistant school, and it hopes to have a PA program of its own within five years, Montgomery Rice said.

Montgomery Rice is a native of Macon, a graduate of Georgia Tech and Harvard Medical School. She completed her training in obstetrics and gynecology at Emory School of Medicine  and reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Hutzel Hospital in Detroit.

Her husband is from rural Sandersville, where she said his family transported ob/gyn patients who had to go to Augusta for care. “I know what these underserved counties look like,’’ she said.

Because of her Georgia roots, she said, leading Morehouse School of Medicine “is a big deal for me personally.’’