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Published in CenterView on January 14, 2013
Gov. Phil Bryant
Gov. Phil Bryant

Ceremony heralds SOM’s new $63 million home

By Gary Pettus

As third-year medical student Bradley Deere helped mark the symbolic groundbreaking for UMMC’s new School of Medicine, he admitted in front of God, the governor and everybody that he was a “little jealous.”

Bradley Deere
Bradley Deere

Jealous of those who seem destined to avail themselves of a proposed $63 million-plus facility heralded by Gov. Phil Bryant and others during the Jan. 7 ceremony.

“Future students will know they graduated from one of the truly great institutions in the nation,” said Deere, president of the School of Medicine Class of 2014 and president-elect of the Associated Student Body.

“It’s humbling to know that where we stand now is the future School of Medicine.”

Where they stood was in a chilly corner of the Verner S. Holmes Learning Resource Center parking lot in the shadow of the library where Deere has studied for his medical degree.

UMMC officials expect the lot to be transformed into a 151,000-square-foot facility that would replace the cramped quarters characteristic of the current School of Medicine, which has no dedicated building.

The governor expects it as well, describing such a building as a tangible approach to saving lives by reducing the state’s immense shortage of primary care physicians.

“Mississippi is the most medically underserved state,” Bryant said. “We don’t have enough doctors, so people are dying.

“Today we say . . . help is on the way. More doctors are coming.”

umc1955 2They will, it is hoped, emerge one day from the sparkling, modern corridors of the first home for UMMC medical students built since 1955, when the current School of Medicine opened as part of the Medical Center complex on State Street.

“We can ill afford not to build this medical school,” Bryant said. “The old one and I are about the same age, which should bring you some concern.”

With more space and updated technology, Bryant said, the School of Medicine would be able to expand its first-year class size from 135 students to more than 160, and ultimately improve the health of those living in one of the country’s least-healthy states.

To reach the national benchmark, Mississippi would have to add more than 1,300 family medicine practitioners, pediatricians, gynecologists and others to its current workforce.

Building a new medical school is a “monumental step to move us forward in that direction,” said Dr. Dan Jones, chancellor of the University of Mississippi, who thanked Bryant for his support of the new school.

“Governor, you’ve clearly made this one of your highest priorities,” Jones said.

The state goal, for now, is 1,000 additional doctors by 2025, a target endorsed by Bryant, who on Oct. 26 announced a $10 million award in federal Community Development Block Grant Funds (CDBGF) toward the medical-school cause.

Bestowed through the Mississippi Development Authority, those funds were added to the $4.5 million appropriated by legislators in 2011 for architectural and engineering groundwork. The funding needed now stands at close to $50 million, not counting costs for furnishings and technology.

Dr. James E. Keeton
Dr. James E. Keeton

Basking in the sunshine that lit the speakers’ platform – the only warm spot in the lot – UMMC officials declared during the groundbreaking that they are hopeful  the funds are forthcoming, probably over the course of more than one legislative session.

“The legislature has been our friend for a very long time,” said Dr. James Keeton, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

As if on cue, State Rep. Philip Gunn, Speaker of the House, spoke for his fellow lawmakers: “On behalf of the legislature, we pledge to do everything we can to support this new medical school.”

Following the ceremony, Dr. LouAnn Woodward, associate vice chancellor for health affairs and vice dean of the School of Medicine, acknowledged that there is still work to be done before the new five-story building puts the learning resource center in the shade.

“But like true Mississippians, we’ll get down to it,” she said.

Other speakers proclaiming the groundbreaking everything from “a great day” to “a celebration” included  Lynn Fitch, state treasurer; Dr. Hank Bounds, commissioner for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning; Blake Wilson, president and CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council; and Harvey Johnson Jr., Jackson mayor.

Dr. James Keeton, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and School of Medicine dean, told a crowd of ground-breaking ceremony attendees on Jan. 7 the additional physicians trained at the new School of Medicine building will improve health-care in Mississippi and boost the state’s economy.
Dr. James Keeton, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and School of Medicine dean, told a crowd of ground-breaking ceremony attendees on Jan. 7 the additional physicians trained at the new School of Medicine building will improve health-care in Mississippi and boost the state’s economy.

Gregg Harper of Pearl, 3rd District U.S. Rep., also was on hand to lend luster to the occasion, which was highlighted by the unveiling of an artist’s rendering of the proposed school by a group of medical students.

Envisioned by Jackson-based CDFL Architects & Engineers, the building that would rise just south of the Norman C. Nelson Student Union would be similar in size to the Ole Miss law school in Oxford. Already, roadwork linked to the site is underway near Lakeland Drive, which it would face.

This new, more technologically advanced School of Medicine would not only help boost the state’s health, it would also serve as an economic engine by creating more than 19,000 jobs, Bryant said.

“It’s not just for the UMMC hospital, but for all the hospitals in the state; it’s for all the citizens,” he said.

New SOM building rendering
New SOM building rendering

The facility would be the first real home for medical students, who, counting all four classes, number more than 500. Without the benefit of one dedicated building, they inhabit several: the Research Wing, the University Rehabilitation Center, the Alumni House, the G. V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center, the Jackson Medical Mall Thad Cochran Center and various other educational buildings and clinical sites on- and off-campus.

Although Deere won’t be able to enjoy the more accommodating school of the future, he sounded genuinely happy for his medical school successors.

The project, he said, “instills a new appreciation for our profession. It confirms that Mississippi is invested in our education.

“We will become better physicians.”

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