A class apart: Medical school breaks admissions recordPublished on Monday, September 17, 2018By: Gary PettusThe bid to inject more doctors into Mississippi’s workforce received a booster shot in August when the School of Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center welcomed its largest first-year class ever: 165 students.The number of admissions exceeded last year’s figure, 155, the most ample until now.The news has been celebrated by, among others, Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, and Dr. Loretta Jackson-Williams, vice dean for medical education and professor of emergency medicine.“In the long run, expanding the medical school class makes a big difference for the physician workforce in the state,” Jackson-Williams said.“There are a number of physicians who, even if they don’t complete their residency [specialty training] here, are more likely to come back to Mississippi because they were educated in the medical school here.“At the same time, it’s important for our state to continue to support the residency programs here. Many of those who come from other states to do their residencies at the Medical Center love it here and they stay.”Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, welcomes the school's largest incoming class during orientation Aug. 8.During the August 9 White Coat Ceremony – the Medical Center’s formal welcome to entering medical students – Dr. Stephen Manuel noted that, after last year’s opening of the School of Medicine’s new home, the medical school was able to expand the entering class from 145, then to 155, before adding another 10 this year.“That’s why the building was built,” said Manuel, associate dean for medical school admissions and assistant professor of family medicine,As UMMC officials were deciding on a goal for the medical school’s class size, they considered several factors which, for now, add up to 165: the scope of the physician workforce in Mississippi; the applicant pool; the retention rate for medical school graduates; and the number of residency positions available.Now that the 151,000 square-foot, state-of-the art building has allowed officials to enlarge the number of students admitted, they believe a much-needed rise in the ranks of medical doctors will follow.“We’re working hard to grow the physician workforce in Mississippi,” Woodward said.In the histology lab, Conner Bancroft and Camille Azar, first-year medical students, delve into the structure of the diaphysis, or midsection of a bone.That work is vital for improving patient access to health care.“There will continue to be a need for more providers because the population is aging and people are living longer,” Jackson-Williams said. “We have seen major advancements in the management of injuries and chronic disease.“We need those providers to help patients navigate an increasingly complex health-care system.”That is particularly true for Mississippi, which is in last place at about 186 active physicians per 100,000 residents, as recorded by the 2017 State Physician Workforce Data Report from the Association of American Medical Colleges.The report says active physicians number under 5,600 in a state with a population of nearly three million.The good news is that Mississippi ranks sixth in retaining physicians who receive their medical education here.Dr. Sharon Douglas, professor of medicine and associate dean for veterans administration education in the School of Medicine, attaches a Humanism in Medicine pin to the coat of Darius Shaquille Kennedy, first-year medical student.Before the new medical education building was completed, UMMC officials referred to economic development estimates that say the larger class sizes will swell state tax revenue by $241 million, create another 19,000-plus jobs and produce an additional $1.7 billion impact after 2025.Members of the School of Medicine’s admissions committee accept only Mississippi residents, who are more likely to be aware of the state’s health care needs and, it’s hoped, remain here after graduation.The Class of 2022 is “100 percent Mississippi residents,” Manuel said. Nearly 40 percent come from rural areas, while 96 percent are from underserved counties. They represent 22 different majors; nearly one-third majored in biology or biological sciences.It was in 2005 that the School of Medicine began increasing admissions by increments once again, starting with 100 students. From 1974 until 1982, the school had accepted 150, but the class size started declining afterward. For now, the number of admissions for the first-year class will remain at 165, Woodward said.Dr. Kathleen Yee, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomical sciences, puts first-year medical students through their paces in the histology lab, where they study the anatomy of cells and tissues.