Catching Up With … Valerie Montgomery Rice, M.D.
Macon-born Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, a researcher and infertility specialist, has been at Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) since 2011. She – and MSM – are committed to the creation and advancement of health equity. These are edited highlights from an interview.
Q: What is the mission of MSM?
A: Morehouse School of Medicine was founded [about 48 years ago] to diversify the healthcare workforce. We also are focused on how do we eliminate health disparities? And overall, how do we improve access to care?
Q: What is the state of healthcare in Georgia today?
A: Historically, Georgia has tended to fall in the middle to lower rankings among states for overall quality of care. We continue to have significant challenges in providing access to healthcare in rural and urban communities, and particularly to underserved communities. However, the state is making some progress. One example of that is the recent legislation to increase access to mental health. We’ve made some strides in annual testing for diabetic patients. But we still have big challenges with maternal health equity. I think there are close to  counties in Georgia that don’t have an OB/GYN, what we call the maternal health desert, meaning that we do not have providers that can care for women in places where they live, work and play. We are working hard through our Center for Maternal Health Equity to ensure that we utilize technology to reach those patients.
Q: How is MSM helping address the physician shortage in Georgia?
A: When I got to Morehouse School of Medicine 11 years ago, we seemed to be stuck at a class size of 56. I worked with my team, and we went from 56 students to 100 M.D. students in five years. This year we enrolled 125 students, and 70% of those students come from the state of Georgia. So, we know that we are making a difference.
When you get a student who graduated from high school in Georgia, if they attend Morehouse School of Medicine, they have about an 82% chance that they’re going to practice in the state of Georgia. If someone graduates from a high school in Georgia, does their medical school and residency at Morehouse School of Medicine, [there’s] a 96% chance that they’re going to practice in Georgia.
We also convert non-Georgians to Georgians all the time. Let’s say that 30% or 35% of the students who are in our classes are not from Georgia, they have about a 70% chance they’re going to stay here and practice in the state of Georgia once we get them.
Q: What is MSM’s next healthcare focus?
A: It is about how [to] build this bridge between healthcare and health, and address some of the social determinants and the barriers that prevent people from being empowered. Even when there’s access [to healthcare], to ensure people have enough trust in the system to actually participate in improving their health outcomes.
The other part would be about translating discoveries into health equity. We have a large focus on genomic and precision medicine. We will be launching a genomics institute to collect more samples from African Americans, and Hispanic-Latino persons, and persons from different zip codes, because we believe that there are environmental influences that impact your genome. We are trying to make sure that when we’re doing precision medicine, we are using data that is more reflective of the diversity of the population that we’re serving.
Q: What are you hopeful about when it comes to healthcare in Georgia?
A: I am hopeful about how we work collaboratively to address healthcare challenges. One of our biggest partnerships is with CommonSpirit Health, [one of] the largest not-for-profit health systems in the country. We’ve partnered with them to open regional medical campuses. We’re going to increase our class size and recruit students from some of our underserved communities. Hopefully, they will go back and practice in their community.