The incoming class of 2021 at the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine was the highest performing in college history. They had the highest median score of any class on the Medical College Admissions Test and the highest cumulative grade point average, 3.89. The 2022 students, who started classes in July, are another impressive batch of future doctors.
Dr. Charles Lockwood, senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the medical school, thinks these bright minds choose USF for several reasons.
“The first is that we have a really fantastic set of teaching hospitals,” says Lockwood. “It is enormous.”
He mentions Tampa General Hospital, H. Lee Moffitt Center and Cancer Research Center, James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
“These are all great places to train,” Lockwood says.
It doesn’t hurt that Morsani College of Medicine has risen in US News & World Report’s top medical school rankings from 80th when Lockwood came in eight years ago to 46th now.
“I think we had three programs in the top 50 of American news“, he says. “Now it’s seven, soon it will be nine and eventually I think in the near future it will be 11.”
Total research spending for Morsani and Moffitt from National Institutes of Health grants has risen from $138 million eight years ago to $215 million now, Lockwood says.
State-of-the-art building on bustling Water Street
Certainly, the 13-story, 390,000-square-foot Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute in downtown Tampa has caught the eye of medical students and researchers. It opened in January 2020 in the new Water Street neighborhood of downtown Tampa, near its main teaching hospital, Tampa General.
“It’s an architectural gem,” says Lockwood. “But it’s located in this really fantastic, almost magical area of the Water Street project.”
The location, with apartments, restaurants, retail and the waterfront within walking distance, is perfect for millennials, he notes.
“That’s exactly what you want when you’re that age. It’s a vibrant, up-and-coming neighborhood,” says Lockwood. “It’s really going to be one of the most exciting places in the United States. So to be able to go to medical school and have great teaching and great research, great faculty and great hospital is really a powerful draw.
The building was a big selling point for first-year medical student Zachary Schwartz.
“The views are incredible,” he says, noting that the study rooms have water views. “The resources here are undeniably awesome.”
Schwartz, 23, grew up in Cleveland and graduated with honors in biomedical sciences — pre-medicine — from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He scored in the 95th percentile on the Medical College Admission Test. He plans to become an ER doctor, but says he’s keeping his options open.
He loves being in downtown Tampa.
“I grew up where I grew up in Cleveland, it’s an older city,” Schwartz says. “In Tampa, downtown is still under construction. New restaurants are coming, new buildings.”
It’s an exciting atmosphere. He and his friends recently went out after studying, he said, and attended the Lightning pre-game festivities.
“And the general from Tampa, of course. When you have an A-plus hospital, a level 1 trauma center right there,” he says. “I’m definitely looking forward to going there. Being five minutes from my apartment is just fantastic.”
Build a partnership
Morsani and Tampa General Hospital are the mainstays of an effort to establish a medical and research district of Tampa, and their plans have already attracted Inpeco, an international leader in laboratory automation. The Swiss company with a manufacturing facility in Italy has set up its North American headquarters in a separate building in downtown Tampa that houses the USF Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, where medical students use computer technology to train in diagnosis and other skills.
USF Health is considered an academic medical center for its close working relationship with Tampa General, such as partnerships between Shands Hospital and the University of Florida in Gainesville and Jackson Memorial Hospital and the university from Miami to South Florida. This is where the sickest people come for treatment and where breakthrough healings happen most often.
USF Health executive vice president and dean of Morsani College of Medicine, Dr. Charles Lockwood.“First of all, the care is better,” says Lockwood. “Having residents (doctors) and students in the group increases the number of eyes on a patient and improves outcomes, and that is well established in this country.
Academic medical centers are also hubs for clinical trials.
“For example, the neurology department offers 150 separate clinical trials, ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to ALS, Parkinson’s disease, I mean, you name it,” says Lockwood.
“It gives patients access to therapies they wouldn’t otherwise have access to for years,” he says. “So I think that’s another positive.”
The relationship between the college and the hospital was strengthened in July 2020 when physicians from USF Health and Tampa General and some 800 healthcare providers joined together under a unified management organization. Called USF Tampa General Physicians Group, or USFTGP, it is one of the largest university medical groups in Florida.
USF and Tampa General have worked together since the medical school was established approximately 50 years ago. In the past, each pursued their own interests “but not necessarily in the best interests of our partner,” Lockwood says. By combining, he says, the best result for the whole is better than either achieved individually.
The partnership, he says, allows for greater access to capital “so we can grow, hire more doctors and more physical locations, and see more patients.”
“It produces more revenue that we can then fund our education and research missions with,” Lockwood adds.
It’s created a really much more synergistic environment, where as Tampa General does better, the medical school does better, and vice versa, he says.
“And over time, it will allow us to provide the community with services that the community desperately needs that are very expensive for medical schools, like endocrinology, nephrology and rheumatology, and it’s paying off,” says Lockwood.
Develop a medical district
Through their partnership, USF Health and Tampa General are working together to expand Tampa’s medical and research district. What they’re trying to portray, Lockwood says, is the idea that as they continue to expand medical services in the area where the medical school is located, Tampa General and their operations on Kennedy Boulevard, “We are building more and more components of world-class healthcare.”
At least 26 institutions will make up the district, according to a Tampa General Hospital spokeswoman. It will include several universities, a school of pharmacy, urgent care centers and specialized care and research centers like the Global Emerging Diseases Institute, which opened nearly two years ago. This is where specialists treat infectious diseases.
The opening of the TGH/USF Health Precision Medicine Biorepository was announced last month. It will collect and store biological material for medical research, which Lockwood says will be especially beneficial for cancer research. A planned proton therapy center, a partnership with TGH, Florida Cancer Specialists and Research Institute, Proton Therapy Partners and Florida Urology Partners, will treat people with cancer.
Plans also include an eventual 126-bed behavioral rehabilitation hospital, which will care for patients with mental health issues and Baker’s Law “and really address a critical need for inpatient services,” Lockwood said.
“And then there will hopefully be a neuroscience facility nearby,” he adds. “All of these things are where USF faculty work. USF faculty will run this psychiatric hospital. The Neuroscience Center will house our neurosurgeons, psychiatrists and neurologists offering outpatient care and clinical trials.”
Lockwood says they are currently developing an outpatient orthopedic day hospital and eventually hope to build a hotel for patients and families coming in for treatment from across the country.
Building the medical school near Tampa General was long overdue, Lockwood says.
“If you took all the medical schools in the United States, we were the farthest from our teaching hospital,” he says. “So that made us normal.”
For more information, please see USF Morsani College of Medicine and USF Tampa General Physicians
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