CLEARWATER — A new medical school has opened along the Courtney Campbell Causeway, boasting student-friendly facilities and advanced simulation technology with striking views of Tampa Bay.
The 311,000-square-foot campus is the latest branch of Nova Southeastern University, a private college headquartered in Fort Lauderdale with seven locations across Florida. The first class of students enrolled at the Clearwater campus last month, making Nova the largest educator of doctors in the state.
“It’s inevitable that we will be one of the most exciting medical hubs in the world,” said executive associate dean Kenneth Johnson. “That’s really the vision.”
He said Nova rivals other medical schools with cutting-edge technology such as realistic and interactive computer programs that allow students to practice and observe medical procedures on various parts of the body. At the same time, the campus sits in the middle of a heavily populated region with a large health care landscape, just across the bay from Tampa International Airport.
Nova fueled construction of its Clearwater branch through a partnership with Drs. Kiran and Pallavi Patel, Tampa Bay philanthropists who announced a $200 million commitment to the school in 2017, then their foundation followed that with another $25 million last year.
Kiran Patel had wanted to open a local college of osteopathic medicine on his own, but lacked the know-how to run an academic operation. Nova president George L. Hanbury had already been courting him to get involved with the university. He suggested they work together, said Patel, a former cardiologist.
“It was a natural partnership for me because what I lack, they had,” Patel said. “I wanted to do it right, so I said yes.”
Dr. Kiran Patel is part of FBN Partners, a group of local investors who have loaned $15 million to Times Publishing Co., which owns the Tampa Bay Times.
The Patels’ contributions to Nova led to the establishment of the Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, a doctoral program new to the bay area but nearly identical to the one offered on Nova’s main campus in Fort Lauderdale. That program will now share Patel’s name on both campuses.
The Clearwater program can teach up to 150 osteopathic students in one class. The program is housed in the three-story building’s eastern wing. Between the two campuses, Nova expects to graduate about 380 doctors a year.
Already existing programs such as psychology and cardiovascular sonography were already operating at the school’s former Tampa Bay site in Brandon. They’ve since been relocated to the Clearwater campus’ western wing and will operate under the Dr. Pallavi Patel College of Health Care Sciences.
Students in those programs say there are substantial differences between the old and new campuses. For one, school hours were extended, going from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays to 6 a.m. to midnight every day. That gives students more access to labs and campus amenities.
The new campus has a food court and snack kiosk, a fitness center and outdoor running trail, a colorful recreation lounge overlooking Tampa Bay and about 100 reservable study rooms. There is space for students to nap, relax and collaborate.
It’s a nice change from Brandon, where space was hard to come by, said Rachel Sharitz, a 24-year-old studying to be an anesthesiologist assistant. The operating room simulators there felt cramped, she said.
“This has the feel of a real hospital,” she said, standing over a fake body lying on an operating table as a machine blinked behind her. “You walk in and think, ‘Ah, I can succeed here.’”
Finding a place to study used to be difficult, too, said 23-year-old Alexandra Tello, who is also studying anesthesiology. There were so many people piled into the same spaces that distractions were hard to avoid. Now she can simply reserve a private, sound-proof study room on the Clearwater campus.
“This place really is set up for student success,” said director of recruitment and outreach James Miller.
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Near the entrance on the first floor is a board asking students to write what they like best about the campus. Some wrote simply: “Thank you, Dr. K,” referencing Kiran Patel’s gift. There was also praise for the architecture and the views from the third floor.
One called the building “the beginning of a greater future," which falls right in line with Patel’s vision for the college to meet needs and impact lives.
“The two best gifts you can give anyone are education and health,” he said. “By producing doctors, we are able to give both. Two basic needs of human beings are fulfilled."