Vice President for Medical Affairs
and Dean of UCF College of Medicine
What attracted you to being part of the beginning of UCF College of Medicine?
I had the opportunity to be involved in a number of medical colleges that were in their initial stage, but I was looking for a new challenge. This was more than building a medical school; there are 7,000 acres of land here along with a developer who wanted to build a ‘Medical City’ but realized the only way to attract the various components of a medical research cluster was to anchor it with a medical school.
Why is that?
For a medical school to be a topflight institution, it has to own two additional facets of its model besides teaching. It has to have a major research enterprise, where its faculty is engaging in cutting edge research. If you have a faculty that is teaching a subject like history, the topic of the Civil War isn’t going to change dramatically in the next five years. But if you are teaching something like “How to Treat Asthma,” every year there is a new discovery. In order to be teaching at the state-of-the-art level, you have to be researching, and secondly you have to be practicing; you don’t want a faculty that practiced medicine 20 years ago or worse, never practiced at all.
And a “Medical City” provides this environment?
The best analogy I can give is that of a shopping mall. If you want to build a large mall, it has to have numerous specialty stores, but if you only have those specialty stores it will never take off. You also have to have a Neiman Marcus or a Macy’s that are the anchor tenants which sell virtually everything. Medical City has both research components and hospitals where medicine is practiced; what they need is a constant influx of talent to staff each of the constituent elements that make up Medical City, which the College of Medicine supplies.
We not only train physicians, but also Ph.D. scientists at our College of Medicine. This is one aspect that doesn’t get talked about as much. These young scientists work with our senior scientists to push the envelope of discovery.
This research is being done in the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences building, as well as facilities on the main campus of UCF, where we train all of our undergraduate students. Graduate students take up to another four to seven years and once they graduate, they are the personnel who will lead the research at places like Sanford-Burnham. They also may do research in the pharmaceutical industry to create new drugs or to study things like diabetes. The medical schools perform both functions of training physicians and researchers.
So if you have this type of personnel, you have the type of workforce that could attract, say, a major pharmaceutical company to the area.
You have just answered the question of why you can’t build a Medical City without a great medical school, which does both research and patient care, as an anchor. Why would a drug company want to come here, instead of another location, if they didn’t think that there was a large pool of young people who were being trained and graduated every year and they would have the pick of the cream of that crop for their workforce? If they came here and there was no medical school they would have to import those people from other institutions. We provide a world class workforce for the type of industries we are trying to attract.
We have at least 30 research faculty at our college, all of which are doing cutting edge research in cardiovascular disease, neuroscience, infectious disease, immunology and cancer. They get research grants and hire their staff and basically spend those grant dollars right here in Central Florida, adding to the vibrant economic health of the community.
The research results in patents and the patents can spin off into new companies. Insurance providers are drawn here because they want to study their patient population so they can provide better quality and better efficiency with the dollars they have to spend.
What is the most exciting, emerging focus of study on the horizon – Nanoscience, genetics, what?
That is like asking someone to choose between 10 children. I simply can’t do that; there are breakthroughs occurring every day in genetics, in simulation and in other technologies. Medicine is exploding right now and to select one as being the most disruptive one in the future is impossible to say. I would love to be here 50 years from now, because the world will look as different 50 years from now as it looks today compared to 150 years ago. We are accelerating that fast.