USF Health International Inaugural in Panama

The USF Health International Foundation is the only health sciences academic center with a presence on the City of Knowledge campus in Panama City, Panama.

City of Knowledge, Panama – On June 2, 2008 the USF Health International Foundation officially opened its doors in the country of Panama. Their mission: to increase collaboration in education, research and patient care between USF faculty and students and Panama, as well as other health professionals and organizations throughout the region.

“It is fitting that we do this here in Panama, the site of some of the most profound discoveries in public health in the last 200 years,” said Donna Petersen, ScD, dean of the USF College of Public Health.

“General William Gorgas had a job to do. A canal needed to be built to provide a much needed trade route from East to West and back again, but that job could not be done until he had completed an almost more daunting task – keeping thousands of people alive … in an environment stacked entirely in favor of the diseases,” Dr. Petersen explained. “By accomplishing this task, the general not only completed the original job he was sent to do, he launched a revolution in disease control that has saved millions of lives for more than 100 years.”

Overlooking the Panama Canal, the USF Health International Foundation sits on the old Fort Clayton built by the U.S. military to protect the canal´s strategic Miraflores locks which guard canal access to the Pacific Ocean. The fort is known today as “Ciudad del Saber,” the City of Knowledge in English. The historic site sits on approximately 300 acres of land — the USF Health International Foundation stands as the only health sciences academic center, to date. With neighbors the likes of the International Red Cross, United Nations UNESCO, Organization of American States, Nature Conservancy and Spanish Embassy, the re-purposed fort serves as a hub to a growing number of international organizations.

“This is one of the most beautiful examples of hammering swords into plow shares that I´ve ever seen,” said Ann De Baldo, PhD, associate vice president of international programs, USF Health, and associate dean of international programs, USF College of Public Health.

The foundation´s hopes extend beyond students and faculty at USF Health to reach researchers, scientists, educators and health professionals across South and Central America. Among its ambitious goals, leadership development programs for participants in the private and public health sectors, as well as non-profit organizations.

“When we look, together, at establishing best practices, we can make life better for countless numbers of people,” said USF President Judy Genshaft. Drawing her inspiration from seven words engraved on the Panama Canal´s museum, Genshaft told Panamanian officials gathered for the inaugural “They were words that made all the difference in their efforts: hope, effort, courage, determination, perseverance, spirit and tenacity. The same applies to USF Health. Together, we can make a difference for the future.”

Serving as president of the foundation, Deborah Sutherland, PhD, described the foundation´s official opening after three years of efforts between USF Health, USF and Panamanian officials in the City of Knowledge. “To see this dream come true has been a very exciting time for all of us,” Dr. Sutherland said.

The USF Health Associate Vice President and Associate Dean for Continuing Professional Development said talks are already underway to create courses, conferences, and other resources to bring continuing professional education within reach of more health professionals than ever before in Latin and Central America.

“We have met with the University of Panama and with the Universidad Latina de Panama to discuss their needs for short courses,” she explained. “Specifically, we´ve spoken about family practice — family medicine with a focus on emergency medicine. We´ve spoken with representatives from departments of general surgery, orthopedics, and obstetrics and gynecology. Our ‘short courses’ will initially focus on those specialty areas.”

“We’re hoping to improve the performance of physicians who practice in Panama by offering courses right here in this country,” Dr. Sutherland said. “Presently, the physicians are usually taken outside the country and they are industry-sponsored courses and provide training in industry specific labs there. If we can offer those courses here in Panama, collaborating with Panamanian faculty, it not only helps improve the performance of the practicing physician but we’ll reach more physicians. By reaching more physicians we hope to have an impact on the quality of care that is provided here. Plus it helps them establish countrywide prominence for their universidades and their specialties. They get recognized as the experts in training other Latin American physicians.”

For Steven Klasko, MD, MBA, senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the USF College of Medicine, Panama sets the stage for innovations with far reaching implications in medicine, nursing and public health. “We believe the Center of Knowledge can be a base for us to build a true clinical simulation lab in this part of the world,” Dr. Klasko said.

With the potential for more simulation labs like the one developed in Tampa, the foundation hopes to work with medical societies and associations to establish universally recognized metrics in simulation to help train physicians in new and emerging treatments and technology, as well as assess technical competencies. “We can use simulation technology to improve the capacities of physicians, nurses and ALL health professionals. This isn´t just something that we do, we´re PASSIONATE about it,” Dr. Klasko said.

Joining Dr. Klasko and President Genshaft was Dr. Sterling Williams, vice president for education for the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG).

USF nursing students, including Jason Merry and Christine Doherty (pictured above), conducted a Community Clinical Experience course in Panama where they visited a maternity ward and observed births. The students were guests of honor at the foundation’s inaugural ceremony.

Among the guests of honor at the foundation´s inaugural ceremony, were 15 students from the USF College of Nursing already in Panama for their Community Clinical Experience Course.

For Patricia Burns, PhD, dean of the USF College of Nursing, Panama has served as a classroom for her students since 2006 thanks to its exchange program with the nursing school at the Universidad de Panama.

“The students and faculty who have participated in 2006 and 2007 could not say enough about the quality of the experience they had and the wonderful people they worked with during their stay in Panama!” said Dr. Burns, visibly proud of her students who handily stole the show, so to speak, during the foundation’s inaugural ceremony. Their charm and enthusiasm bolstered the aspirations of academics, scientists and health professionals representing several countries.

Nursing students Shadee Llewelyn and Caitlin Brock received a big round of applause, speaking on behalf of the students, they delivered a message of thank you in Spanish, holding tight to their note cards written in big letters, all in Español.

Taking it all in, the City of Knowledge´s Executive Director declared “USF not only excels in sports — we follow the Bulls from Panama — USF excels in its scientific research and its contributions to health in the community and society,” Dr. Jorge Arosemena said.

- Story by Lissette Campos, USF Health Communications

Other links:

PHOTO GALLERY – June 2, 2008

Health in the Americas - Speech by Dean Donna Petersen, USF College of Public Health.

Discurso en Español: La Salud de las Américas

Click here for more on Office of International Programs, USF College of Public Health

Click here for more on the City of Knowledge, Panama.