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Sunday Conversation: Charly Lockwood leads the USF College of Medicine's transition

Dr. Charly Lockwood has headed the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine since May 2014. Photo courtesy USF Morsani College of Medicine.
Dr. Charly Lockwood has headed the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine since May 2014. Photo courtesy USF Morsani College of Medicine.
Published Jun. 10, 2018

On his best days, Charly Lockwood will do a little bit of everything. • The dean of the University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine might spend the morning doing research in the lab, afternoons seeing patients — yes he still serves the public as obstetrician/gynecologist and has delivered more than 5,000 babies — and evenings connecting with the college's "amazing" students.

He's genuinely excited about collaborating with the university's other health deans and aiming at an interprofessional approach to training, research and ultimately patient care.

Lockwood, however, holds another critical role. He's one of the most important principles in the largest redevelopment in downtown Tampa's history. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates, through his private wealth fund Cascade Investments, have formed Strategic Property Partners to create the $3 billion Water Street Tampa.

And one of the cornerstones of the development: a new Morsani College of Medicine that Lockwood is playing a key role in designing.

"I think it's an extraordinary time for Tampa," Lockwood says. "There are just so many things that are coming together at the same time. There are challenges, obviously. Transportation. Education. But there is this energy, and I think Jeff Vinik's project symbolizes all of that, that kind of coming together."

Lockwood recently spoke to Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper about the progress he's realized since coming to USF in May 2014, the impact of moving the medical school downtown and how he lends support to students.

You're a principal player in one of the biggest projects the city has ever taken on. What's your perspective on that?

I'm loving it. My core is medical educator. I'm a physician. That's what I do, and I'm a researcher. That's why I came here. I didn't know anything about the downtown project. That was all a bonus. But I saw the opportunity here as literally getting in on the ground floor on what was going to be a decade-long transition from kind of a community medical school to a really strong research-based university and medical school. The university I saw as kind of the NYU of the 1970s, making that transition from a commuter, part-time education to a residential, strong research university.

That's an interesting comparison.

The parallels were striking and what was more exciting was the pace of the evolution was actually faster than what happened at NYU, in a city that was exploding. It all made sense to me in a lot of ways. I also saw that the barriers to creating a great medical school were mostly self-imposed and relatively easy to overcome. So we focused like a laser beam in my first four years here on our three mission areas. How do we make the best education program we can? How do we make sure that there's tremendous value added to every aspect of the curriculum? How do we get the best and the brightest here? We've enjoyed a huge increase in applicants. I don't think the downtown project has hurt that process, but I think it's more than that.

How much of a barrier was having the school in the northern part of town and the teaching hospital, Tampa General, on Davis Islands?

Yes. It concerned me when I took the job and that made Jeff Vinik's proposition extremely, extremely attractive. If you look at the top 75 NHI-funded schools, we are by far the furthest from our primary teaching hospital. Most of them are right there, physically adjacent or within a five-minute ride. In fact, we're the furthest of any allopathic medical school in the United States. When we surveyed students who had been accepted to USF and chose not to matriculate here, a significant percentage said they would have considered it if the school was downtown. So proximity is important. ...

The average test scores of your applicants has gone up. The number of applicants have gone up. How much do you attribute that to the impending shift to Water Street?

I have no idea but it certainly doesn't hurt and I think once it's built, and it will be built very quickly, I'm going to predict — I'm very cautious — we'll have another significant increase in applicants. What's the ceiling? I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me that in two to three years we have an excess of 7,000 applicants for 170 positions. These kids are already amazing and may be even more amazing in two to three years.

When it comes to the students, you have to be tough, you have to be demanding. But at the same time, they have to feel like you're rooting for them. How do you balance that?

That's the magic of it. It is a little bit like being a sergeant major at LeJeune. They're going to be competing with every other medical school in the United States when they take their STEP exams. That's the SAT, if you will, of residency programs. They have to master a huge amount of material and do it very well. And they have to do research because that's another key entree into strong residency programs. So how do you make them not burn out when you put those kinds of demands on them? There are a lot of little strategies that we're employing. One is physical fitness. Exercise is critically important to prevent burn out. When they move down here, they'll have access to Harbor Island. Everybody is building a gym down here. We'll make sure everyone has memberships. (Right now) they use our well facility all the time. It's packed with folks, so exercise is important. Creating an environment where they can appreciate some of the non-medical aspects of being a human being, whether its art or literature. We have a humanities program that I think is terrific. Last year, we went to the Dali Museum. I spent Saturday morning with them. I had no idea what I was looking at, but fortunately we had competent docents that did know. We spent all this time looking at art and realizing you can interpret it 50 different ways.

And with all the museums in downtown, you'll be able to enhance that with the move.

Absolutely. The other component is millennials want to be in an urban environment. That's what they like. Being able to live down here, work down here, enjoy the amenities — that's going to attract students. I think it's also going to create an environment where they can decamp, where they can relax. They realize there's so much richness in life and they can take full advantage of it. The beauty of Jeff's vision of this WELL district is he's already on it. He's thinking about it for everybody else, but it's exactly the environment I want my students in.

Contact Ernest Hooper at Follow him @hoop4you.