Morsani receives more funding, more applications

The Morsani College of Medicine received $22.5 million from the state to build a downtown medical school. The project as a whole requires 152.6 million and is still short by $33.2 million. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

The Morsani College of Medicine is in its final stages of funding following the Florida Legislature’s decision to allocate several million more dollars to the project. As a result, USF Health is looking at a bigger and stronger incoming class than ever before with the development of a more appealing downtown area for prospective student. 

The number of applicants to the college of medicine increased this year by almost 1,000 applicants, a nearly 18 percent increase from last year’s 5,235. At 6,174, the number of applications broke the USF record, according to USF Health Communications Officer Anne Delotto-Baier.

But the uptick in applicants doesn’t surprise Dr. Bryan Bognar, vice dean for educational affairs for USF Heath and the college of medicine. 

The Morsani College of Medicine has been Tampa’s best-kept secret, Bognar said. However, with the publicity for the new facility, the secret is out and applications are flowing in at higher numbers than ever.

The $152.6 million project seemed at risk of major delays in the last Legislative sessions, with as little as $6.8 million allocated in the 2012-13 budget, according to documents from the Board of Governors (BOG). 

“By law, the (BOG) has to make a recommendation to the Legislature and the governor every year about … what are the priorities of the university system and how would they portion out the additional PECO revenue,” said Mark Walsh, USF System Assistant Vice President for Government Relations. “They’re required to do that over a 3 year period.”

The money comes from a trust fund called PECO (Public Education Capital Outlet), which pays for most university construction projects, according to Walsh.

This year, though, the BOG advocated in the Legislature in USF’s favor for money from PECO to fund the downtown medical school.

“The (BOG) this year … recommended $22.5 million for the Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Health Institute combined project for this year, which the Legislature funded,” Walsh said. “What’s on their second year list is the remaining $33,250,000 to be provided next year. That’s not a guarantee, but that’s how the board of governors recommended to split the remaining amount.”

Bognar said the facility is the logical next step for the Morsani College of Medicine, which is in the top 100 medical schools for research and primary care, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Walsh acknowledged the renewed excitement over the college of medicine.

“(There has been) a tremendous spike in applications for the USF college of medicine just for this fall,” he said. “Based on that level of interest and the applications they received and chose, the class for fall 2015 entering medical school … had the highest MCAT scores of any medical school in the state of Florida.”

While the students who have applied for this cycle will learn in the current facility, Walsh said USF hopes the facility will be open in the fall of 2019, which would allow this year’s first year medical students to be able to use the new building.

Those students will also be able to utilize the USF Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), a training facility and conference center in Downtown Tampa. 

Bognar said he believes the presence of CAMLS and the proximity of USF’s primary teaching hospital, Tampa General, will play a major part in the success of the new medical school facility. The three will only add to the already existing appeal of the Tampa area for prospective medical school students.

In the meantime, the facility isn’t done being paid for and the remaining $33.2 million will need to be raised through private donations or allocated by the state. But Walsh said the university is close to raising the remainder.

“There is another portion of the funding for the facility that the university committed to raise out of private sources from donations,” he said. “We have raised a little more than half of that total amount, but we still have some fundraising ahead of us that we need to work on, as well.”