USF medical school opens new chapter on innovation, growth in Tampa

The new USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute now dominates the Channel District skyline. It exudes a presence and signature style in 13 stories of sparkling, glass-prism construction.

The University of South Florida’s mascot logo, the “charging” bull, is a crowning adornment on an outer wall. The long-awaited arrival of USF into Tampa’s urban core is complete.

The new medical school promises to be an engine of change for USF, the Channel District, downtown Tampa, and the Tampa Bay region.

USF also puts down an anchor for the master-planned commercial and residential development, known as Water Street Tampa, that is re-imagining a historically underused waterfront and warehouse district as a live, work, play, and stay urban designed community.

A standing-room-only crowd celebrated the medical college’s grand opening on Jan. 8. A groundbreaking at Channelside and South Meridian Avenue happened more than 900 days ago.

“This has been amazing as you can imagine and exhilarating and also an extremely humbling process,” says Charles Lockwood, Dean of the medical college.

At grand opening ceremonies, he lauded former USF President Judy Genshaft for her guidance on the nearly 10-year vision to relocate the medical school to Tampa’s urban core. “She always had my back and my front sometimes,” Lockwood said.

The college is expected to have an outsized impact on Tampa’s economic growth, and on USF’s reputation as a medical research and teaching university not only in Florida but in the nation and around the globe.

The Florida Board of Governors designated USF as a “preeminent research university” in 2018, opening a pipeline to state funding for the medical school. USF is only the third university in the state with this honor.

“You certainly can’t beat the location. This is the perfect location for this building,” says Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. “Our downtown core is changing before our eyes. This is a day I hope we will all remember. It is lifting our city up.”

Getting to know the neighbors

According to USF officials, the medical school will anchor more than $3 billion in development. It sits in the heart of Water Street Tampa, a development project of Strategic Property Partners, Inc. that foresees more than 23,000 residents, workers and visitors in its future.

The medical facility potentially can pump $73 million into the local, state and regional economy, USF officials estimate. Every $1 of federal grant money for research will pass along $2.60 into the local economy.

“The economic effects of this building will be felt for years to come,” says USF President Steve Currall.

Classes for about 1,800 medical students began Jan. 13. Heart Institute researchers will begin arriving this month (February 2020). The Taneja College of Pharmacy tentatively will begin its classes in Fall 2020.

The new facility will “dramatically strengthen our relationship with Tampa General Hospital,” Lockwood says. “We are very excited for what the future holds. This building is also a showcase of research and education in both form and function.”

Hands-on learning through simulation and technology rather than classroom instruction is front and center in students’ experience at the medical school.

It’s a new world where medical knowledge changes every 14 days, says Lockwood.
  
The new medical school is locked into a three-way partnership with Tampa General, as USF’s primary teaching hospital, and USF’s Center for Advanced Medical and Learning Simulation (CAMLS), one of the five top simulation centers in the world. The facilities are physically located close to each other and sit within Tampa’s rapidly growing downtown.

Tampa General will lease three floors at the new medical school with plans to open an urgent care and imaging center with Tower Radiology and USF Health. USF and Tampa General also will create a Joint Academic Medical Center.

The medical college will be a “human magnet,” says Currall.

Talent begets talent
 
Student applications already are surging, and the quality of applicants is rising, he says. As many as 4,000 public and private sector jobs could be generated from the medical school’s research.

Initially, about 20 researchers will join the USF faculty but the research program could add another 10 or so researchers in future. Their focus will be on cardiac and vascular diseases and innovative discoveries.

“Let us even dream [that] someday in the future, researchers in this building will someday be worthy of a Nobel prize,” Currall says. “I think that’s possible.”

Innovation is defining the Water Street area, says Mayor Castor.

The city in all directions is spurring new growth and an expanding economy, she says.

The Channel District and Water Street Tampa along with The Tampa Riverwalk, Armature Works, more apartments and condominiums in downtown, and plans to connect the new buildings with mass transit are reshaping Tampa’s downtown landscape and its future.

“We are growing in a thoughtful way,” the mayor says. “That is very, very important.”

For students, the new medical school offers state-of-the-art technology for hands-on learning and a synergy among USF, Tampa General, and CAMLS.

“Today really serves as the culmination of the hard work poured into this building for years,” says USF Student President Amy Mickelsen.

New traditions and new alliances are being created, she adds.

Mickelsen graduates in May and will have limited time to enjoy her new environment. She doesn’t know yet where she will complete her medical residency, but her interest is in general surgery.

But for those starting on their four-year journey to graduation, the new medical school will become “a home away from home,” she says. “It will have both a living and a learning community. It will create cohesion.”

Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a freelance writer who lives in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. She previously covered Tampa neighborhoods for more than 15 years as a reporter for The Tampa Tribune. She grew up in Georgia but headed north to earn a BA degree from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. She backpacked through Europe before attending the University of Iowa's Creative Writers' Workshop for two years. She has a journalism degree from Georgia College. She likes writing, history, and movies.  
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