Partnerships advancing Health Professions Education

There’s a sign at the University of Central Florida (UCF) College of Medicine that reads, “The lesson you learn today will save someone’s life tomorrow. Pay attention!” Those two sentences embody Dr. Deborah German’s passion and her drive to build the UCF medical school in affiliation with an essential partner: VA.

Dr. German, vice president for Health Affairs and founding dean of the UCF College of Medicine, is the powerhouse behind Central Florida’s Lake Nona medical community, one of VA’s robust academic affiliations to train future health professionals.

Lake Nona began with a vision to build a new medical school with the latest technology to educate diverse students in partnership with a new VA medical center in Central Florida.

When the UCF College of Medicine/Orlando VA partnership began, neither entity even had a building. But together, German and Orlando VA leadership team forged a dream that would lead to training opportunities for UCF College of Medicine students at a co-located tertiary care VA hospital.

Experience helps them understand Veterans

Just one decade later, this vision is a reality that has produced 956 physicians who continue to care for Veterans in VA and in communities across the nation. In fact, every UCF medical student completes a clinical rotation at the Orlando VA  with a number of them also rotating through Bay Pines VA, an experience that helps them understand Veterans and the sacrifices they have made for our country.

“I knew that I wanted to be here to build this century’s premier medical school, one that could leapfrog over all the best medical schools in the country and build something better. I always knew that VA needed to be part of that vision,” said German, who also serves on VA’s National Academic Advisory Council. “If you look nationally at medical schools, you’ll find that the very best are affiliated closely with VA hospitals and, optimally, they’re on the same campus. So, when the opportunity came to partner with a VA, there was no question in my mind that that was what we needed to do.”

Female VA doctor

Dr. Deborah German

German, who completed part of her medical training at Roxboro VA, went on to serve as associate dean of Medical Education at Duke University and as senior associate dean of Medical Education for Vanderbilt University. Through those medical schools’ affiliations with VA, she learned first-hand the value of VA training experiences for students and faculty alike.

Helps students know what can be

“VA is such a great and unique experience for trainees,” said German. “The thing that makes VA so precious in a medical education is that it’s comprehensive and, in our country, health care is fractionated. So, when our students and residents are learning in a VA [facility], they’re learning a system that they can’t see anywhere else and it really does give them a different view of health care. It helps them know what can be.”

Orlando VA Internal Medicine Residency Program Director and UCF Professor Dr. Abdo Asmar agreed. He said that, because VA is such an integrated system, trainees learn to care for all the complex needs of Veterans—clinical, mental, emotional and social.

“One of the things I enjoy the most when I’m interacting with residents or learners is to teach them about how to think about thinking,” Abdo said. “Despite all the advancement in technology, medicine is still an art as much as it is a science. To be able to practice good medicine, you have to have a holistic approach to patient care. I think that working in VA helps us focus on that.”

“Working with Veterans gave me a sense of purpose.”

VA’s approach to patient care, combined with opportunities to teach and participate in research, have led several UCF College of Medicine graduates, like Dr. Richard Henriquez, to continue their careers in VA after their training is complete.

Henriquez, who completed both his residency and chief residency at the Orlando VA, is now on staff there and is faculty at the UCF College of Medicine.

“Working with Veterans truly gave me a sense of purpose,” said Henriquez. “I want to make a difference, not just for my patients, but teach the medical students, teach the residents how to be the best doctor.”

The Lake Nona medical community, anchored by UCF College of Medicine and Orlando VA, is now known across the U.S. as a model community for health, teaching and research. Lake Nona also encompasses UCF’s College of Nursing and College of Dental Medicine, as well as the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, all partners of Orlando VA for training future health care professionals.

“We’re growing up together,” German concluded. “We built our buildings around the same time. We started hiring our physicians around the same time. We are one, and we think about our partner’s needs and we try to meet them. If our partner thinks about our needs and they try to meet them, we end up with something that’s way better than anything we could do on our own. It’s about the students, the residents, the research. But all of that is really about the patient. And at VA, we have very special patients.”

Learn more

During VA Health Professions Education Week, March 13 – 17, VA recognizes the more than 118,000 HPTs who train each year in VA and the more than 1,400 educational institutions that partner with VA to train future health professionals.

These academic affiliations, some of which began more than 75 years ago, are coordinated by VA’s Office of Academic Affiliations (OAA). Find out more about VA’s academic mission by watching this video and visiting the Office of Academic Affiliations website.

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