Gov. Phil Bryant said Friday that his hope to leave a valuable legacy to the state has been achieved as the new University of Mississippi School of Medicine opens this month.
“My prayer has been to, in some small way, leave the future generations a historic challenge to help construct a pathway to the possibility of greatness,” Bryant said during dedication ceremonies in Jackson. “Today I see that pathway. This remarkable building will be filled with students who are endowed with the seeds of greatness.”
He and other top state government and education officials spoke Friday morning at the dedication. The building will open for classes Aug. 14.
The five-story, 151,000-square-foot building’s modern classroom and study space and new technology are expected to play a big role in moving the state forward. The school had been housed in a facility built in 1955.
“Whether it is in the arena of K-12 (or) higher education, what I want all of you and everybody across Mississippi to do is I want you to expect facilities that can rival any facility anywhere in the world,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said during his dedication remarks. “If we as a state … continue to raise the level of expectations in our state, Mississippians will continue to rise up and meet those increased expectations.”
This new building opens at a time when Mississippi has fewer doctors per capita than any other state in the country, according to a report from the Association of Academic Medical Colleges. Many at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and in the Capitol believe the best way to attract more doctors is to invest in the medical school and its students.
University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter called the university’s medical school “one of our crown jewels.” He hopes to see the program grow larger over time now that class sizes can comfortably increase.
“This facility will serve as a key component in growing our established track record of excellence and of achievement,” Vitter said during the dedication.
Officials touted the school’s state-of-the-art technology. The medical school now has a simulated operating room, which allows students to learn about the rigors of surgery in a real world environment. It also has more classrooms, study spaces and lounge areas to allow students to spread out, as opposed to the old facility’s tightly squeezed lecture halls, classrooms and study spaces shared with the schools of dentistry, pharmacy and nursing.
After the ceremony, Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and dean of the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, said the new building will be key to servicing rural areas much like where she grew up in Carroll County, where she said only one physician was accessible in the county.
“Efforts that we can take to increase the retention of our graduates in Mississippi and to be sure that we keep our brightest and our best here in the state, that’s important to me,” Woodward said.
U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper acknowledged the state’s lack of doctors during the ceremony and appealed to the school’s medical students to stay and practice Mississippi.
“To all of our medical school students, there’s no place like Mississippi,” Harper said. “It is the greatest state to live in, to be in with your family. … As you look at where to practice (and) where to finally settle down, remember, the financial rewards are important, but the quality of life is even more important and there’s no place better.”
Trace Palmer, a second-year medical student, said he looks forward having access to the roomier lecture halls and study spaces, among other resources.
“It will help us have a better routine,” said Palmer, 23. “If we have a specific spot we could go to every day to study and know what to expect, I think that would be really helpful.”
But some, such as third-year student Michelle Wheeler, said the most notable offering is lounge areas, where students can study and interact outside of the classroom.
“The biggest thing about being in medical school is that the only people who understand what you’re going through at the moment is the person who sits next to you,” said Wheeler, 25. “To have a space outside the classroom for you to sit and just talk, just to de-stress, is nice.”
Contributing: Larrison Campbell