SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (Children’s) have announced a major initiative focused on improving pediatric healthcare in rural Georgia.

The initiative will include a series of pilot programs focused on improving access to rural pediatric care.

To help increase access to pediatricians in rural counties, Children’s is funding 10 full-tuition scholarships in 2023 through a program at MUSM for medical students specializing in pediatrics who commit to serving in rural Georgia for at least four years after residency.

“On behalf of all Georgians, especially those who live in rural parts of our state, I want to thank Mercer University School of Medicine and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for partnering to tackle this critical need,” said Governor Brian Kemp. “Since day one on the job, my administration has worked to bring more healthcare options and better health outcomes to all parts of our state, and this partnership will help us make an important step toward that goal. I’m grateful for their efforts and look forward to the impact this program will have.”

“Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has been dedicated to providing the best possible care to sick and injured children and to helping kids stay healthy through our prevention and advocacy programs across Georgia,” said Donna Hyland, Chief Executive Officer, Children’s. “The past few years have impacted kids and healthcare providers across the state. Children’s is very excited to work with Mercer University School of Medicine and the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center (GRHIC) because they are a trusted community partner and best suited to guide us in addressing the current and future needs of Georgia’s rural pediatric population. We believe that together we can make an impact for kids in Georgia’s rural communities now and for generations to come.”

The funding will allow MUSM to leverage its demonstrated understanding of the healthcare needs of rural communities to conduct and evaluate the pilot programs. Children’s will provide the specialized pediatric clinical knowledge needed to launch and sustain those programs.

Proposed Rural Healthcare pilots and projects include:

  • Helping Rural Hospitals be “Kid Ready” – To help rural hospitals better prepare and treat pediatric patients in emergency departments, this initiative will assist rural hospitals enrolled in the pilot program to be considered “Kid Ready.”
  • Supporting Rural Pediatricians – Training and resources will be provided to physicians focused on challenges regularly faced in rural practices. MUSM has identified a need for specialty consult services via telehealth for rural patients and a network of pediatricians focused on rural pediatric health.
  • Expanding Behavioral and Mental Health Support – MUSM and Children’s will work with schools, pediatricians and hospitals to develop a comprehensive approach to pediatric mental health in two communities with virtual mental health services and a focus on suicide awareness and prevention.