School of Medicine Announces Updated Research Leadership Roles


MACON/SAVANNAH/COLUMBUS – Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) recently announced important faculty positions to develop research opportunities and improve the School’s research output. These updates will spur greater focus on translational research to improve health care for all, especially rural Georgians.

“Supporting research in all aspects of care is critically important, but underserved rural populations are rarely included,” said Jean Sumner, MD, FACP, dean of MUSM. “Dr. Barkin, Dr. Stephens and Dr. Visalli are accomplished researchers in their areas of expertise and will be outstanding leaders.

Jennifer Barkin, Ph.D. – Acting Executive Director of the Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities and Director of Community Medicine Research

Dr. Jennifer Barkin

Jennifer Barkin, Ph.D., is a professor and vice-chair of the Department of Community Medicine at MUSM. Her research focuses on maternal mental health and mental health in relation to climate change. His intellectual property, the Barkin Index of Maternal Functioning (BIMF), has been used in academia, community settings, and industry-sponsored clinical trials. The BIMF recently received an A grade in a systematic review of the study of tools published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology Maternal-Fetal Medicine.

The Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities, an NIH Center of Excellence, is housed within the School of Medicine and is dedicated to implementing community-based solutions to health disparity issues in rural areas from Georgia. The Center manages a federal portfolio of more than $6 million focused on reducing maternal and child mortality, preventing opioid overdoses, and chronic disease self-management.

“I am excited to take an active role in the Center’s evolution as an organization that serves the needs of rural Georgians,” Dr. Barkin said. “We will work with our diverse group of faculty, community partners and students towards an open and inclusive model that benefits the entire community. By working together, we can have a powerful and lasting impact.

Jeffrey Stephens, MD, FACP, FIDSA – Associate Dean of Clinical Research

Dr Jeffrey Stephens

Jeffrey Stephens, MD, FACP, FISDA, is chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine at MUSM and served Central Georgia as an infectious disease physician for 30 years. During his career, he received the J. Willis Hurst Teaching Award from the Georgia Chapter of the American College of Physicians and the Leonard Tow Award from the Gold Humanism in Medicine Society for humanistic and compassionate care. He was named one of Georgia Trend magazine’s Top Doctors in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Throughout this time, Dr. Stephens also had an active research program in clinical therapeutics, focusing on clinical trials of new drugs to treat HIV/AIDS. His work has contributed to the approval of several drugs by the FDA for the treatment of HIV.

“I am honored to be named Associate Dean for Clinical Research,” said Dr. Stephens. “I look forward to helping grow our research business, particularly in the area of ​​rural health for the state of Georgia.”

Robert Visalli, Ph.D. – Associate Dean of Biomedical Research

Dr. Robert Visalli
Dr. Robert Visalli

Robert Visalli, Ph.D., is a professor of microbiology and assistant director of student research at the Savannah campus of MUSM. In his more than 30 years of human herpesvirus research, his laboratory has provided undergraduate, graduate, and medical students with research opportunities in molecular herpes virology. Dr. Visalli has served as reviewer, co-chair, and most recently chair of the American Society of Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program. Dr. Visalli’s research support has included three grants from the National Institutes of Health, the most recent being a grant from the Research Enhancement Award Program for the development of broad-spectrum antiviral drugs for herpesvirus.

“MUSM now has three four-year campuses where the impact of biomedical science research will extend its reach to all Georgians,” Dr. Visalli said. “I am thrilled to take this opportunity to work with faculty, medical students and leaders to achieve new milestones in productivity and secure extramural funding. Perhaps the most important part of the job will be supporting and mentoring our early career research faculty so that they have productive and successful careers at MUSM.

These faculty members will work in partnership with Gretchen Bentz, Ph.D., Director of Student Research, to actively engage students in their own projects and provide interested students with expanded opportunities to make an impact through translational research.

About Mercer University School of Medicine (Macon, Savannah, and Columbus)

Mercer University School of Medicine was established in 1982 to train physicians and health care professionals to meet the primary care and health care needs of rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia. Today, more than 60% of graduates currently practice in the state of Georgia, and of these, more than 80% practice in rural or medically underserved areas of Georgia. Mercer medical students benefit from a problem-oriented medical education program that provides early patient care experiences. Such an academic environment promotes the early development of clinical problem solving and instills in each student an awareness of the place of basic medical sciences in medical practice. The school opened additional four-year MD campuses in Savannah in 2008 and Columbus in 2021. After their sophomore year, students participate in core clinical rotations at the school’s main teaching hospitals: Atrium Health Navicent The Medical Center and Piedmont Macon Medical Center in Macon; Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah; and Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital and St. Francis-Emory Healthcare in Columbus. The School also offers master’s degrees in preclinical sciences and biomedical sciences and a doctorate. in Rural Health Sciences in Macon and a Masters in Family Therapy in Macon and Atlanta.


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