TAMPA — A search firm hired by the University of South Florida has identified three internal candidates to be considered as the next medical school dean as it continues to hunt nationwide for additional prospects.The candidates are Dr. Clifton Gooch, chairman of the neurology department; Dr. Charles Paidas, vice dean for clinical affairs and graduate medical education; and Dr. David J. Smith Jr., chairman of the surgery department and chief medical officer at USF Health's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS).A search committee is scheduled Friday to interview the three men, all of whom have expressed interest. USF spokeswoman Lara Wade described Friday's interviews as "initial conversations." The firm, Quick Leonard Kieffer, continues to look for external candidates as well, she said, adding that USF has no deadline for filling the job."We want to take the time to make sure we've got the right fit," said Wade.Morsani College of Medicine has been without a permanent leader since Dr. Stephen Klasko announced in June that he was leaving for a job as president of Thomas Jefferson University and chief executive officer of the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital System in Philadelphia.Klasko's departure came at a complicated juncture for the medical school. At the time, it had signed only a one-year renewal with longtime partner Tampa General Hospital, sparking concerns that the relationship between the two institutions had deteriorated. Klasko had also led USF on an ambitious initiative — creating its own health system, with Lakeland Regional Medical Center as its first member — that is at a standstill.Last month, USF Health signed a new, three-year medical education affiliation agreement with Tampa General. It is an "evergreen contract,'' so it automatically renews unless one of the parties wants to terminate it.The partnership with Lakeland Regional has shown little progress, though officials on both sides insist it's still viable. "It's a great relationship," said Yadira Holmes, a spokeswoman for Lakeland Regional.Officials do not want to proceed with honing their affiliation agreement until USF names its new medical dean, she said.The two sides have talked about sending USF medical students to the Lakeland hospital before filling residency slots. Lakeland is still in talks with the federal government about how the residencies would be financed, Holmes said.The three internal candidates for the dean's post have had considerable experience both at USF and in the community.Gooch played a major role in the creation of the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute. Paidas is chief of pediatric surgery at Tampa General and oversees USF's medical residency program, including that portion of the partnership with Lakeland Regional. Smith serves as medical director of TGH's burn center and also oversaw USF's efforts to set up a statewide trauma system with for-profit hospital chain HCA.Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.