February 6, 2023

Cover Story: Medical Schools

A Focus on the Underserved

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.

| 7/1/2007

Florida International University School of Medicine

Last fall, as Dr. John Rock was negotiating to accept the position of founding dean of the college of medicine at Florida International University in Miami, the program got some very bad news. Miami philanthropist Dr. Herbert Wertheim, an FIU trustee and longtime benefactor, had rescinded his $20-million donation to the med school, which was to bear his name. The Wertheim gift, worth $40 million including matching funds, had been the largest in FIU’s history and had helped convince the Legislature to approve the school in the first place.

“It was important enough to the overall plan that, if I’d been John Rock, I might have had second, third and fourth thoughts,” says FIU professor Bruce Hauptli, chair of the Faculty Senate. “But he was so committed to building the medical school envisioned here that he did not waver.”

“FIU does have a reputation. I don’t see this as a risk. It’s very well-defined. This is for someone who wants to make a difference.”

That vision incorporates a new, urban-focused approach to training doctors that is tied to the community and improves access to healthcare in a metropolitan area with the highest medically underserved population in Florida. Nearly 30% of Miami-Dade residents are uninsured, compared to 19% statewide. The school aims to bring together health disciplines from social workers to nurses to practice in and improve the health of specific neighborhoods, with benchmarking to show progress over time. And it intends to graduate bilingual doctors likely to set up practice in south Florida and stay put. Those “culturally competent doctors,” as Rock calls them, will be trained to understand both medical and non-medical subtleties in Hispanic, African-American and other cultures.

A highly regarded administrator and academic who most recently served as chancellor and CEO of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, Rock, 61, made it his first order of business to lure big names to Miami for his leadership team. He hired a member of the National Academy of Sciences, genetics researcher Dr. Joe Leigh Simpson of Baylor, as head of academic affairs. He tapped the chairman of the department of surgery at LSU’s med school, Dr. J. Patrick O’Leary, to lead clinical affairs. As head of student affairs, Rock hired Dr. Sanford Markham, former assistant dean of student affairs at the University of Iowa’s College of Medicine.

Rock “is a builder, a developer, with the personal gravitas to be able to attract top-level people without even having a school yet,” says Dr. Jeffrey Horstmyer, a neurologist at Miami’s Mercy Hospital who is president of the hospital’s 900-member medical staff and chairman of FIU’s College of Medicine Founders program devoted to early fund raising. “His first hires really underscore that persona.”

Tags: Healthcare

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