March 31, 2015

Cover Story: Medical Schools

The Weight of Expectation

UCF’s Dr. Deborah German and FIU’s Dr. John Rock will be only the third and fourth people in the nation to build a med school from scratch in nearly 30 years.

Cynthia Barnett | 7/1/2007

University of Central Florida School of Medicine

Conveniently, an elevator arrives — going down — just as Dr. Deborah German steps out to leave her third-floor office in a building at the University of Central Florida’s research park east of Orlando. The doors open with a “ding,” but she passes them up and heads for the stairwell. “I just always take the stairs, to fit in some exercise,” she explains.

German, 56, also parks in a space as far away from her office as possible so she’ll walk a few more steps each day. Taking the path of least resistance isn’t her way, she acknowledges. Which helps explain why she’s taken on a job in which the days are as endless as the expectations.

As founding dean of UCF’s new College of Medicine, German, former associate med school dean at Vanderbilt, presides over an institution that has, at present, no faculty, no students and, perhaps most daunting, no accreditation. By the time the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (known as the LCME) comes calling in December, German must have all the details in place: Curriculum covering everything from molecules to tissues; policies covering everything from student privacy to faculty grievances.

She also must raise $1.6 million in private donations to offer full scholarships to the 40 students who make up the school’s inaugural class, expected to arrive in the fall of 2009. How better to convince a promising future doctor to join a med school with no track record?

“We’re going to attract a certain type of medical student,” says German. “An adventurer-pioneer-inventor-creator-builder type.”

Whatever type of students they attract, the school and German face expectations far beyond increasing the number of doctors in Florida. Greater Orlando is the largest metropolitan area in the nation with no medical school — one of UCF’s arguments to the Legislature for granting it the institution that will cost Florida taxpayers at least $200 million over 10 years.

The regional business community sees the school as an essential element in moving the area’s economy further out from under the long shadow cast by theme parks and tourism, envisioning a kind of medical and research mecca. In supporting the school, former Gov. Jeb Bush “made it clear that he didn’t necessarily buy the doctor’s shortage argument, but what he was much more interested in was the economic development that the med school would bring,” says Rasesh “Sesh” Thakkar, senior managing director of Orlando’s Tavistock Group, a private investment company founded by billionaire British businessman Joe Lewis.

In fall 2005, Tavistock donated $30 million in cash and land to establish the UCF Health Campus at Lake Nona — a pivotal element in convincing the Legislature to create the med school. The 50-acre research and academic campus established the footprint for what is now slated to include the med school, the California-based Burnham Institute for Medical Research and a $560-million Veterans Administration hospital.

The expectations won’t lessen once the med school begins turning out doctors. Local leaders expect it to pull in millions in research dollars and work with Burnham to create a stronger biotech industry and more entrepreneurial spinoffs — and, along the way, bring more doctors into the community and raise the bar for local healthcare. “What we have, I believe, is what Gov. Bush dreamed of when he put up the money for Scripps and for Burnham,” Thakkar says. “A true cluster is forming.”

Tags: North Central, Education, Healthcare

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