COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – The Mercer School of Medicine hosted a dedication ceremony Friday afternoon for supporters who enabled Mercer University to expand its school of medicine to Columbus.

The public-private partnership was hailed by Mercer President William D. Underwood and Med School Dean Dr. Jean Sumner for the eventual end result — more Georgia doctors practicing in underserved communities.

Underwood and Sumner shared how the success of bringing Mercer University’s School of Medicine to Columbus to improve the state of the community as possible through various sources coming together to provide a solution.

“I think this endeavor demonstrates how challenges, even big challenges can be solved when we come together with a common purpose,” Underwood said. “On behalf of the second oldest institution of higher learning in Georgia, an institution chartered by the general assembly 190 years ago to serve the public interests of Georgia, we’re proud to be a part of this effort, we are proud to call this community home.”

Sumner called it a great day.

“I’m filled with gratitude and emotion about this community,” said Sumner “So many of you contributed and there is no way to express the thanks that I and Mercer feel for allowing us to be part of this great community.”

And the finished $38.5 million product has turned out to be something that is exceeded expectations. 

“It is a project that got better as it went,” said Brad Turner, a Columbus philanthropist. “And, I think, it has turned out at this point in time better than I ever expected.” 

Brad Turner was part of the effort to raise nearly $15 million in private funds to make the new campus a possibility. The riverfront location was made possible by a land donation from TSYS/Global Payments. 

And seeing the finished product has left Global Payments Chairman Troy Woods with one word to describe it. 

“Pride,” Woods said. “Congratulations to Bill and John and all the people at Mercer. People like Jimmy Elder who went over to Mercer many years ago to try and convince them to put together a plan and come to Columbus.” 

First Baptist Church pastor Jimmy Elder, Rep. Richard Smith, Columbus attorney Pete Robinson, and philanthropist and Mercer Trustee Tom Black were the ones who made the original pitch to Underwood. 

“I want to just ask you to remember with Richard and me Pete Robinson and Tom Black. Just take a moment and hold that in your heart. And thank God for those two gentlemen and let the Lord let them see from heaven what’s taking place today.” 

Mercer will educate 240 physicians when the campus is running at full capacity. The school is partnering with the state to educate Georgians to practice medicine in the state – especially in the rural and underserved parts. 

“I will be honest with you, I think the potential for what it’s going to mean to our community, the impact it is going to have in not only healthcare but economic development, in so many ways I think it’s going to be more than we can imagine,” Turner said.

Retired Columbus OB/GYN physician Cecil Whitaker knows what this infusion of doctors will mean for Columbus and West Georgia. 

“It’s huge,” Whitaker said. “We need people to fill the retirement of many people who are leaving medicine at this time. And this school being located here, and training people here will afford a huge pipeline to help fill what we need in Columbus. And not just here but in our surrounding communities.”