JA19 web - Page 8



President William D. Underwood continues to lead Mercer University during a period of dynamic development.
Since assuming the helm in 2006, enrollment has increased by over 22 percent to more than 8,750 students.
He graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University and received a J.D. from the University of Illinois.
A former Baylor University law professor, he was Baylor’s interim president from 2005-2006.
Staff writer Baker Owens caught up with President Underwood for an update on Mercer.
BAKER OWENS Mercer University is experiencing a lot
of growth and achievement. For example, it was
announced in May that Mercer is expanding the School
of Medicine from a two-year campus to a full four-year
campus. Can you talk about the process of that expansion and what is involved?
WILLIAM UNDERWOOD From the beginning, this was an
initiative that was led by the Columbus community. A
group of community leaders came to see me eight years
ago and said they were interested in bringing a medical
school campus to Columbus. They were concerned about
their physician workforce and in particular replacing doctors as they aged. They were also concerned about the
rural counties outside of Columbus. Southwest Georgia is
the most underserved part of our state in terms of access
to healthcare. They asked if we could do in Columbus
what we had done in Savannah several years earlier. I told them that their reasons were good and
fit with our mission, but what they proposed
was a very difficult thing to accomplish.
They would need support from the hospitals to the community because medical
students need high-quality clinical rotations
as part of their education. They would need
support to raise the money for a medical
school facility. Finally, the General Assembly
would need to be supportive because a medical school can’t be operated without a subsidy from the state. And to their credit, they
went to work on that. The hospitals in Columbus
got on board, and for the last several years we’ve
been sending third- and fourth-year medical students
over there to see what kind of experience they get, and
we’ve learned the clinical rotations there have been outstanding. The community set out to raise the money for
the facilities, which is a heavy lift. That was done as well.
The community then played a leading role in persuading the General Assembly that this was an important
priority for the state and convincing them to provide
funding. It’s something that demonstrates the good that
can come when local communities and institutions and
government come together to solve a problem.
I think there’s a widespread realization that we must
be more innovative and proactive in addressing the real
healthcare challenge in the state, and this initiative is a
reflection of that realization.
OWENS Besides the medical school, what are some other
initiatives that your office is working on that you are
excited about as a priority for Mercer?
UNDERWOOD Let me mention two things. One is our
ongoing effort to fully integrate the research and service
missions of the university and to provide exciting educational opportunities for young people that are
also relevant. I’ll give you an
example. We’ve had a program in Vietnam for years
continued on 10
I think there’s a widespread realization that
we must be more innovative
and proactive in addressing the
real healthcare challenge . . .
President William Underwood
J U LY / A U G U S T 2 0 1 9
9

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