A while back, Jimmy Carter needed a doctor.
Not just for himself, but for everyone in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. The town’s single doctor had folded up shop a while back. Luckily for Carter, he served on the board of Mercer University, which has a medical school.
Turns out, all Carter had to do to get another doctor was ask. The upshot is that his asking may lead to big things for rural healthcare around the state.
At the ribbon cutting for the new Mercer Medicine Clinic in Plains on Wednesday, Mercer President William Underwood recalled when Carter dropped the hint about needing a new doctor in town. Underwood remembered telling Carter he’d work on it.
“And then, 10 days later he sent me an email asking where that doctor was,” Underwood joked.
Today the doctor is at the end of Main Street in Plains, just past the row of tourist shops commemorating the town’s most famous resident. It will serve as a teaching clinic for Mercer medical students like Taylor Hollingsworth, a second year student from Columbus.
“I definitely want to return home to Columbus to practice medicine because a lot of the counties surrounding Columbus are rural and underserved,” Hollingsworth said. “Being from Columbus I’ve just seen a lot of the older physicians who are internists or family medicine doctors just retiring. There’s a huge need in my hometown.”
Students like Hollingsworth who agree to practice in rural or underserved areas in Georgia get to attend medical school at Mercer for free.
Dustin Horne is a fourth year student from Lafayette in northwest Georgia. He said that rather than become a medical specialist, where there is a lot of money to be made, he is opting to be a slightly less well paid general practitioner in his hometown.
“I grew up in a small town and I’d like to continue living in a small town,” Horne said. “You’re not going to be hurting if you’re a general practice doctor anywhere and there’s a big need and you can help a lot of people that might be falling through the cracks.”
After cutting a ribbon for the clinic not once but three times, so everyone involved could get their picture with Jimmy Carter, the former president pivoted to the politics of healthcare. He said the health needs of people in the places that aren’t Atlanta need to be top of mind for the state’s two gubernatorial candidates.
“Everybody in rural areas know about it,” Carter said. “It's just sometimes some of the bigshots who get elected don’t remember how their people feel before they get elected.”
The Plains clinic is the first of what are planned to be many satellite clinics to the main Mercer Medicine clinic in Macon. Like the Plains clinic, the other clinics will be placed in rural areas of greatest need, staffed by general practitioners with specialists available for consultation via telemedicine.