It has been called the engine that will help turn Tampa into a center of health innovation, a lure that will draw 60,000 medical professionals each year for training, and a generator of new companies and jobs. All this, well before the University of South Florida's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, or CAMLS, even opened its doors. Now, after a year of construction, medical students are trying out the $38-million facility in downtown Tampa this week. They're using high-tech simulators to learn skills like removing gall bladders through tiny laparoscopic incisions and performing delicate neurosurgery — without touching an actual patient.
A grand opening of the three-story CAMLS building, which at 90,000 square feet is billed as the largest facility of its kind in the world, is set for the end of March. Learners are expected to come from all over the world and will range from undergraduates to seasoned professionals.
But teaching already is under way, and officials have been giving a few tours, showing off the center's main components:
• The ground floor houses the Surgical & Interventional Training Center, featuring three surgical skills labs, a trauma operating room, robotics training room and a first-of-its kind hybrid operating room. This room — a similar one is being built for actual patient care at Tampa General Hospital — offers unprecedented flexibility. If, for instance, a heart attack patient were brought in for a minimally invasive technique but was found to need open surgery, he could get it immediately without being moved.
• The Education Center makes up most of the second floor, and includes a 200-seat semicircular auditorium, three expandable 50-seat classrooms, a kitchen and dining space.
• The third floor contains a Virtual Patient Care Center, with more than a dozen smaller training and exam rooms and five larger team training rooms. It also has training pharmacies.
• The top floor also houses the Tampa Bay Research & Innovation Center, where medical faculty, engineers, computer scientists, management experts and industry partners can gather to work on projects, such as developing new medical devices.
"There is nothing else like it," said Dr. John Armstrong, the facility's medical director. He noted that most training and simulation centers in the country are far smaller than CAMLS, serve only one kind of professional rather than the entire team, and often use old equipment.
The new facility near the Tampa Convention Center allows for a world of possibilities, he said, chief among them the ability for all the members of a medical team — doctors, nurses, technicians — to train together. That team approach, and the ability to prove what works best for patients, is growing ever more crucial with today's emphasis on evidence-based medicine, he said.
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Some teams will train in settings that can simulate reality, to sometimes startling effect. Rooms will be equipped to simulate the sights and sounds of battle in Afghanistan so teams can prepare themselves for military medical service. Or the chaos of an urban trauma center can be digitally recreated.
So can warm tones and soft music to soothe patients whose procedures don't call for general anesthesia. Simulated procedures can be recorded so teams can learn from their own performance.
All of the nearly 40 surgical stations are equipped for actual surgery, though the center isn't licensed for patient care. But students will gain experience with real-world equipment.
Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the USF Morsani College of Medicine, said interest in the facility is intense. Representatives from groups such as the American College of Cardiology and two United Kingdom-based medical schools — St. George's and Anglia Ruskin — are scheduled to visit in March. Klasko said the cardiologists' group is considering making CAMLS its primary simulation training site.
CAMLS was awarded $750,000 last fall as part of a grant from the Department of Defense to investigate how best to train combat medics.
Klasko said USF has spoken with top health officials in Panama about building a similar training center there to serve Central and South America. "And these are not casual conversations," he said.
The center has already received glowing reviews from U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, both of whom attended a discussion there last week on women's health issues.
Buckhorn expects CAMLS to generate a short-term economic boost from people training at the facility using downtown hotels and restaurants. Longer-term, the goal is to attract companies such as medical device manufacturers to set up in the area.
Buckhorn recently traveled to Israel to meet with executives from Simbionix, a manufacturer of medical training simulators, including some used at CAMLS.
"CAMLS is probably the most important development in downtown Tampa in at least 20 years," Buckhorn said. "It's a game-changer."
Richard Martin can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3322.