When it opened in 2012, the University of South Florida's prized medical training institute, the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, was proclaimed as the most important downtown development in 20 years. USF's medical school dean at the time vowed that CAMLS would "reinvent the nation's health care." That proved to be an unreachable goal, and a shakeup in CAMLS leadership points to a much different mission for the facility. The university should explain what a refashioned CAMLS will offer as USF prepares to build a new medical school downtown — and how it will represent a brighter future rather than an unrealized dream.
As the Tampa Bay Times' Lisa Gartner reported last week, two top officials left CAMLS in recent months after USF re-examined the role of the center. At its inception, CAMLS was lauded as an innovative center for health education where professionals could train in lifelike settings, academics could teach, and entrepreneurs could fashion modern medical devices. But USF says some areas of the institute have underperformed, and it intends to align the center more directly with the school's academic mission. USF students will have greater access to the facility, and it will house programs in nursing and biomedical engineering in addition to offering additional classroom space.
It's smart to change course when high-profile plans don't work out as hoped. In the fast-changing medical environment, dawdling is not an option. But CAMLS was sold as an academic engine that would change the region's economy and identity by drawing new capital and talent that would put Tampa Bay on the map in the emerging field of commercial medicine.
The question now is what signal a refashioned CAMLS sends to the community and its place in an enormous redevelopment of acres of downtown. CAMLS occupies prime space in the city center; it needs to be actively used. On a larger note, where does this leave the region's long effort to jump-start an industry in applied medicine? And will the change rob USF of the very modern niche it promoted in relocating its medical school downtown?
The community has a great deal at stake, and the top two leaders at USF Health and CAMLS, Dr. Charles Lockwood and Dr. David Smith, need to publicly outline the game plan. There are straightforward but serious questions to answer: How much of CAMLS's mission will be devoted to undergraduate study? What commercial aspects will the institute keep, and how can USF assure the public that those operations are financially viable? What role does CAMLS envision itself playing in Tampa Bay's quest for a biomedical hub? And what is the financial impact to USF in bringing the center into the university's fold?
Lockwood, speaking at a board of trustees meeting last week, was right to note the importance of being proactive in the rapidly changing medical field. Since taking over as dean in 2014, he has been a quick study and a voice of reason while being mindful of USF's role as a regional economic player. The public needs a fuller understanding of how this new approach is expected to play out. It's important that the community is as supportive of the next chapter for CAMLS as the one being left behind.