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.
|Dr. John Rock
Born: 1946 in Corpus Christi, Texas
Family: Married to Martha Rock; three grown children from a previous marriage live in Washington, D.C.
Med school: Louisiana State University
Residency: Duke University
Fellowship: Johns Hopkins University Aditional: Master’s degree from the Harvard School of Public Health Medical specialty: Obstetricsgynecology/ reproductive endocrinology
Career track: Most recently, chancellor of the Health Sciences Center at Louisiana State University with management oversight of Louisiana’s statewide Charity Hospital System. Former director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Johns Hopkins; former chairman and director of OB/GYN residency training programs at Emory
medical advice: “I cannot emphasize enough the importance of preventive healthcare: Regular exercise, excellent diet, seeing your doctor for healthcare prevention.”
fast start: Dr. John Rock has already made a handful of top-level appointments, including Dr. Pedro Jose Greer, a gastroenterologist who has spent his career bringing healthcare to the poor in Miami.
Perhaps the best reflection of the school’s mission is found in Rock’s fourth major hire, Dr. Pedro Jose “Joe” Greer, a gastroenterologist who has spent his career bringing healthcare to the poor and disadvantaged in Miami. Greer founded Camillus Health Concern, an agency that provides medical care to the city’s homeless, after an encounter with a homeless man dying from tuberculosis. Greer also founded the St. John Bosco Clinic, which provides care to undocumented immigrants. Rock named Greer assistant dean of academic affairs, with a mission “to instill that calling in aspiring physicians.”
Rock took a similar approach at LSU, where he tried to make the med school more clinical- and community-oriented. While those trends in medical education have taken hold across the nation, it was challenging to achieve them in a well-established health center where “the traditional cultural issues come into play any time you develop new programs,” Rock says.
“With a new opportunity, especially recruiting in this environment,” he says, “it’s extremely exciting for someone to think of making his or her mark in medical education.” At FIU, “the culture we create will be all our own.”
This spring, Rock and academic affairs chief Simpson submitted FIU’s accreditation packet to the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, beating the deadline for a site visit and provisional accreditation in December. He doesn’t see the new program’s lack of accreditation and reputation as obstacles to attracting top-shelf faculty and the best medical students. “FIU does have a reputation — as a majority minority school with an excellent School of Public Health and excellent School of Nursing with a real commitment to the community,” he says. “I don’t see this as a risk. It’s very well-defined. This is for someone who wants to make a difference.”
A major challenge remaining for Rock, along with FIU President Modesto Maidique, is coming up with funding for the scholarships that will be vital to at least some potential students. At this point, Rock does not expect to be able to offer full rides to all 40 members of his inaugural class.
Half of Wertheim’s gift had been earmarked for a medical education endowment to fund scholarships, professorships, lectures and residencies. (The university says Wertheim tried to back off an initial promise to donate his $20 million in an upfront, lump sum. Wertheim says when he communicated his need to stagger the payments to avoid a tax hit, Maidique insulted him by saying he got naming rights to the med school “on the cheap” — that they were worth more in the neighborhood of $100 million.)
While FIU officials acknowledge the loss of Wertheim’s millions was a blow, they believe they can find new funding sources. Horstmyer, the neurologist who is heading up the college’s Founders program, says Miami “has a lot of untapped wealth,” particularly among Hispanic donors just reaching the level of success that allows them to make significant gifts. “FIU trains more Hispanics than any other university in the country, and there are so many graduates still in the area who were educated at FIU and committed to the university,” Horstmyer says. “I think FIU is better positioned than any other organization in the community to tap into that.”
While Horstmyer, Maidique and others solicit donors and dream of the economic-development opportunities the med school is sure to bring Miami, Rock is focused on one primary goal: Accreditation. “Ultimately, we’re going to be judged by how we provide access to healthcare for the underserved, and whether we can create new doctors for south Florida,” Rock says. “I think the message is clear from the citizens of the state and the Legislature. We accept that challenge.”