1. Opinion

Editorial: Nurturing strong ties between USF med school, Tampa General

The University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute building is being built in Water Street Tampa.
The University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute building is being built in Water Street Tampa.
Published Aug. 30, 2018

Tampa General Hospital and the University of South Florida continue to grow and strengthen their relationship, which is good for health care and the economy in a growing metropolitan area that is already the largest in the state. Florida lawmakers should keep the momentum going next year by providing the final $14.5 million needed to finish the new USF medical school under construction in downtown Tampa. And both institutions should continue to recognize that working together benefits their own interests as much as the larger community.

The new medical school, scheduled to open in 2019, will be better suited and placed to advance USF's dual mission of treating patients and educating the next generation of doctors. Students will be closer to USF's main teaching hospital, Tampa General. And they will be closer to the USF's training lab, the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, whose original business model for focusing on continuing education programs proved unworkable and is now used half the time by students. As part of Jeff Vinik's larger plans to develop the south end of downtown Tampa with shops, offices, condominiums, parks and restaurants, the med school will be centrally located to draw on the energy of new residents and businesses, becoming more attractive to students, faculty, researchers and entrepreneurs.

The building, though, is a backdrop to other successful efforts to raise the standards of care and expand the bay area's reputation for medical excellence. The medical school class of 2022 that entered this month posted the highest medical school admission test scores on record for USF, in the 90th percentile of all students taking the exam nationally. USF also is upgrading its patient facilities, improving customer service and expanding its clinical presence into the growing Brandon area.

USF says the relationship with Tampa General has never been stronger. The two are discussing a new framework for managing patient care more effectively; the options range from creating a new framework for overseeing how physicians use Tampa General to the creation of an integrated practice plan that serves patients by better marrying the reach of community doctors with faculty physicians. Credit for improving the relationship that was too often rocky under previous leaders goes to Charles Lockwood, dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, who arrived in 2014, and Tampa General CEO John Couris, who arrived a year ago this week. Lockwood described the relationship during a meeting this month with the Times editorial board as "seamless'' and "bigger than the sum of its parts.''

USF's achievement this year in being named a preeminent state university reflects the focus it has given to teaching and research, and its emergence as a center for academic medicine will continue to play a big role in the coming years in shaping both the face of public health and the region's economics. Tampa Bay already is the largest metropolitan area in the state, and its 3 million people are expected to grow by another 300,000 in five years.

USF and Tampa General have positioned themselves to serve a growing region by putting goals ahead of egos. That shared sense of mission is key to having them contribute to healthier outcomes in Tampa Bay, to a more vibrant local economy and to the region's goal of being recognized at home and overseas for excellence in research, teaching, patient care and commercial medicine. The Legislature should continue its support for these ambitions by providing the remaining $14.5 million in state funds USF needs to complete its new medical school. It is a good investment that will help the entire west coast of Florida.