The 2021 incoming class at the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine were the highest achievers in the college’s history. They carried the highest median score of any class on the Medical College Admission Test and the highest average grade point average, 3.89. The 2022 students, who began classes in July, are another impressive batch of future physicians.
Dr. Charles Lockwood, senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the medical college, believes these bright minds are choosing USF for multiple reasons.
“One is that we have a really fantastic set of teaching hospitals,” Lockwood says. “That’s huge.”
He points to Tampa General Hospital, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Center, the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
“Those are all great places to train,” Lockwood says.
It doesn’t hurt that the Morsani College of Medicine has risen in US News & World Report’s rankings of best medical schools from 80th when Lockwood arrived eight years ago to 46th now.
“I think we had three programs in the top 50 in US News,” he says. “Now it’s seven, soon it will be nine and, ultimately, I think in the near future it will be 11.”
Total research expenditures for Morsani and Moffitt from National Institutes of Health grants have risen from $138 million eight years ago to $215 million now, Lockwood says.
State-of-the-art building in bustling Water Street
Certainly, the 13-floor, 390,000-square-foot Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute in downtown Tampa has caught the attention of medical students and researchers. It opened in January of 2020 in the new Water Street district in downtown Tampa, close to its main teaching hospital, Tampa General.
“It’s architecturally a gem,” Lockwood says. “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.
“It’s exactly what, when you’re that age, you want. It’s a vibrant area, it’s booming,” Lockwood says. “This is really going to be one of the most exciting locales in the United States. So to be able to go to medical school and have great teaching and great research, great faculty and a great hospital is really a powerful draw.”
The building was a big selling point for Zachary Schwartz, a first-year medical student.
“The views from it are incredible,” he says, noting that the study rooms have views of the water. “The resources here are undeniably awesome.”
Schwartz, 23, grew up in Cleveland and graduated cum laude in biomedical sciences – pre-med – from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He scored in the 95th percentile on the Medical College Admission Test. He’s thinking of becoming an emergency room doctor but says he’s keeping his options open.
He likes being in downtown Tampa.
“Growing 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 in, new buildings.”
It’s an exciting atmosphere. He and friends walked outside recently after studying, he says, and took in the pre-game Lightning festivities.
“And Tampa General, of course. When you have an A-plus hospital, a Level 1 trauma center right there,” he says. “I’m certainly looking forward to getting over there. It being five minutes away from my apartment is just fantastic.”
Building a partnership
Morsani and Tampa General Hospital are the linchpins in an effort to establish a Tampa Medical and Research District, and their plans have already attracted Inpeco, an international leader in laboratory automation. The Swiss company with a manufacturing plant in Italy has located 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 for training in diagnostics and other skills.
USF Health is considered an academic medical center for its close working relationship with Tampa General, like the partnerships of Shands Hospital and the University of Florida in Gainesville and Jackson Memorial Hospital and the University of Miami in south Florida. They’re where the sickest people come for treatment and where breakthrough cures more often happen.
USF Health Executive Vice President and Dean of the Morsani College of Medicine Dr. Charles Lockwood.“First of all, the care is better,” says Lockwood. “Having residents (physicians) and students as part of the group increases the number of eyes on a patient and improves outcomes, and that’s been well-established in this country.”
Academic medical centers are also hubs for clinical trials.
“For example, the department of neurology offers 150 separate clinical trials, everything from Alzheimer’s to ALS, Parkinson’s, I mean you name it,” Lockwood says.
“It provides patients access to therapies they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access for years,” he says. “So that, I think, is another positive.”
The relationship between the college and the hospital was enhanced in July 2020 when USF Health and Tampa General physicians and some 800 care providers combined under a unified management organization. Called the USF Tampa General Physicians Group, or USFTGP, it’s one of the largest academic medical groups in Florida.
USF and Tampa General have worked together since the medical college started some 50 years ago. In the past, each pursued its own interests “but not necessarily in the best interest of our partner,” Lockwood says. By combining, he says the best outcome for the whole is better than either achieved individually.
The partnership, he says, allows more access to capital “so that we can expand, hire more doctors and more physical locations and see more patients.”
“It produces more revenue which then we can subsidize 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 desperately needed services for the community that are really expensive for medical schools to provide, like endocrinology, nephrology and rheumatology, and it’s paying off,” Lockwood says.
Developing a medical district
Through their partnership, USF Health and Tampa General are working together to expand the Tampa Medical and Research District. What they’re trying to portray, Lockwood says, is the idea that as they keep growing medical services in the area where the medical school, Tampa General and their operations on Kennedy Boulevard are, “we’re building more and more components of the world -class health care.”
At least 26 institutions will make up the district, according to a spokeswoman for Tampa General Hospital. It will include multiple universities, a pharmacy school, urgent care centers, and specialized care and research centers like the Global Emerging Diseases Institute, which opened almost two years ago. It’s 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 in 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 call for an eventual 126-bed behavioral rehabilitation hospital, which will take care of mentally disturbed and Baker Act patients “and really fill a critical need in in-patient services,” Lockwood says.
“And then there will be, hopefully, a neuroscience nearby facility,” he adds. “All these things are where USF faculty work. USF faculty will run that psych hospital. The neuroscience center will have our neurosurgeons, our psychiatrists and our neurologists offering outpatient care and clinical trials.”
Lockwood says they are currently developing an orthopedic outpatient day hospital and eventually hope to build a hotel for patients and families coming for treatment from around the country.
Building the medical college close to Tampa General was long overdue, Lockwood says.
“If you took all the medical schools in the United States, we were farthest from our teaching hospital,” he says. “So this has made us normal.”