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Downtown Morsani College Of Medicine Opens New Doors For USF, Tampa

interactive video wall
A large, interactive video wall is one of the many high-tech features of the new USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute. DAYLINA MILLER/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

If there's one good word to describe the new USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute, it may just be “open.”

First, open as in open floor plan, ideal for collaboration among students, faculty, and researchers.

“The open space allows you to see your colleagues that may not be on the same floor, maybe in between classes or something like that, but you can connect with them and really do some cool stuff,” said Steven Lafferty, USF's director of design and construction, describing it as “research as a contact sport.”

“When two incredibly intelligent, and sometimes introverted researchers run into each other is when the sparks fly, and when the light bulbs go off,” he said.

But open also means open for business. The 13-story, 395-thousand square foot facility is welcoming its first class of med school students this semester, with Heart Institute researchers moving in in February, and pharmacy and physician assistant students joining them next year.

The building has a capacity of approximately 1,800 students, faculty, staff, and researchers.

Two men and a woman pose for a photo in front of medical school students
Morsani College of Medicine Dean Dr. Charles Lockwood poses with major donors, Carol and Frank Morsani, along with medical students, pose for a photo at the opening ceremony January 8. DAYLINA MILLER/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

A ceremony Jan. 8 came 900 days after ground was broken on the building, and almost a decade after the idea of a new USF med school was conceived. That was thanks in part to a $20 million donation from Tampa philanthropists Frank and Carol Morsani.

“I think there was a great vision, we didn't know what the vision was as far as a building at that time, but that we did this for the medical school,” said Frank Morsani. “The medical school is going to progress to new heights, so it's tremendously satisfying and gratifying."

The College sits on an acre of land donated in 2014 to USF by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his Strategic Property Partners group as part of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa development.

“We're opening a world-class medical facility here,” said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. “And I've gone on the tour and it is nothing short of amazing, so I couldn't be happier to see this day come.”

Former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was also in attendance at the opening, where he was once again reminded about his claim in 2015 that a downtown medical school was “bigger than baseball” – a reference to his city’s ongoing efforts to bring the Tampa Bay Rays over from St. Petersburg.

“It was true then, it’s certainly true now given how things have turned out,” said Buckhorn, who's married to Dr. Catherine Lynch, associate vice president of women's health at the college. “But more importantly, what this creates for downtown Tampa and for the urban core is a medical-educational complex.”

https://vimeo.com/257572453" target="_blank">USF Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute at Water Street Tampa building time lapse from https://vimeo.com/usfhealthdevelopment" target="_blank">USF Health Alumni on Vimeo.

The entire building is wireless – allowing students and faculty to interact easier.

There's also the Florida Blue Health Knowledge Exchange, a library that's so computer-driven that officials say it has less than 20 physical books in its entire collection. Steven Lafferty says that's partially because medical knowledge is changing so rapidly.

“When we started this project, medical knowledge was doubling every 120 days. Now, if you can imagine from Hippocrates to today, it's doubling every 14 days,” he said. “So the students cannot memorize all that stuff. But they have to be curators of knowledge and be able to discern what's real, what's good research, what's bad research.”

And that knowledge will extend from the college's classrooms, which are easily adjustable to sit between 12 and 400 people, to the Experiential Learning Laboratory. That’s where Lafferty says students can work together as a medical team or learn on simulations on their own.

man stands over patient simulator
The Experiential Learning Laboratory gives USF Health students the opportunity to practice skills on high-tech simulators like the one seen here. DAYLINA MILLER/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

“They're not setting students in classes for 60 minutes at a time, they're going to have a 20-minute lecture, come up here and do 20 minutes of hands-on and then they can go across the hall into a small group learning room, and now actually do a different type of learning with the technology there,” he said, adding that the wireless setup enables them to bring any data they create and collect along the way with them.

Morsani College of Medicine Dean Dr. Charles Lockwood says the total price tag for the building – and all that technology – came in at about $173 million, about $12 million under budget.

Approximately $110 million of that is taxpayer money, the rest from corporate and private donors, like the Morsanis, philanthropists Jugal and Manju Taneja (whose $10 million donation last year led to the College of Pharmacy taking their name), and Tampa General Hospital.

The primary teaching hospital for USF Health, which is now just a short walk – or river taxi ride – away, struck a $20 million deal with USF to lease space in the building, including an urgent care clinic on the first floor and clinical practice space on the ninth.

“That (ninth-floor space) is where some of the medical doctor practitioners that could also be doing translational science or clinical studies might work through that clinic to do their clinical studies, and actually take that research from bench to bed, all the way all the way through the process,” said Lafferty.

Sharing the ninth floor will be the new USF Heart Institute, which will also occupy floors six through eight.

Between 30 and 35 primary researchers, including many who were hired especially for the institute, will do their work in large communal laboratories.

“It's not ‘this is my research area,’ it’s ‘this is our research area,’” said Lafferty. “We're working together, even the sinks are 'plug and play' that can be moved, disconnected, relocated. So it provides an incredible amount of flexibility and it's changing the culture of the way research is being done.”

USF officials estimate that for every research dollar that comes in to the Heart Institute from government funding or other sources, $2.30 will go out.

In total, the building is projected to have a local and statewide economic impact of more than $70 million.

But Lockwood says that just because the new building is open doesn't mean USF Health is done – now the hard work really begins.

“We've laid a great foundation, but the building itself requires recruiting great faculty, recruiting great students, it never really stops,” he said.  

That vision of looking ahead, agreed Buckhorn, is held by both the university and the city.

“It’s a great day for USF, and downtown Tampa is becoming everything that we aspired for it,” he added. “This is a very, very different city that was 10 years ago, but the best part is our last chapter has yet to be written.”

digital medical lab set-up in large room
The Experiential Learning Laboratory can be set up as one large room for group teaching or broken down into as many as eight smaller areas for hands-on learning. DAYLINA MILLER/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

Man demonstrates high-tech white board
Ryan Alderman, anatomy lab manager for USF Health, demonstrates the Microsoft Surface Hub white board that allows students and teachers to share information anywhere inside the medical school. DAYLINA MILLER/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA
empty laboratory through window
The Heart Institute will include a number of labs like this on floors six through nine where 30 to 35 primary cardiac researchers will work. DAYLINA MILLER/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

stairwell to large open meeting area with windows to the right and center.
The new building features large windows with views of downtown Tampa and the Water District, multiple open spaces for students, faculty, and researchers to interact, and lots of stairs to encourage walking. DAYLINA MILLER/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.
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