USF Health leadership travels to Panama and fosters partnerships                              

A team of health experts and educators from across USF Health recently traveled to Panama’s City of Knowledge as part of a collaborative partnership between the two institutions and to participate in annual meeting of the USF Health and Education International Foundation (HEIF).

Since 2004, USF Health has had a presence in Panama’s City of Knowledge. Through HEIF, a private nonprofit foundation, the USF Health Panama program provides educational and research opportunities for USF students and faculty, while helping to improve the lives of residents in the region. In mid-August, members of the HEIF Council traveled to Panama for the council’s annual meeting.

The HEIF Foundation group at the 90th anniversary celebration of the Gorgas Memorial Institute (GMI) for Health Studies.

While in Panama, the HEIF Council members met with a wide range of health care partners and helped celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Gorgas Memorial Institute (GMI) for Health Studies. GMI is a center of excellence for tropical medicine research and was founded to honor Dr. William Gorgas, a U.S. Army physician and the 22nd surgeon general of the U.S. Army. He is remembered for his work for controlling the spread of yellow fever and malaria in Florida, in Havana, Cuba, and in the Isthmus of Panama, allowing for the construction of the Panama Canal. The Gorgas Memorial Institute of Health Studies has had a long history of collaboration with our USF Health Panama office.

“The visit to Panama from our colleagues in Tampa was a fruitful and productive one,” said Arlene Calvo, PhD, research assistant professor at the College of Public Health, assigned to the Panama Program at the City of Knowledge. “Also, showing reciprocal support to the Gorgas Memorial Institute, after they have collaborated with the USF Health Panama program for so many years, was a positive moment. We are proud of the ample network of colleagues we have forged in Panama and the rest of the Latin American region.”

Thomas Unnasch, PhD, department chair and distinguished USF Health professor, Global Health, College of Public Health, was invited as the keynote speaker for the GMI celebration. A world-renowned scientist, Dr. Unnasch is considered an expert in onchocerciasis (river blindness) and has led control and elimination programs for the disease in Africa and Latin America.

The building that will be remodeled to house the CREASS facility in Panama.

During the visit, HEIF members viewed the site designated as the future Centro Regional para el Adiestramiento y Simulación en Salud (CREASS) building. This new simulation facility will be modeled after the USF Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) located in downtown Tampa, Fla. This past year, under the leadership of Luis E. Llerena, MD, FACS, CHSE, and Nikki McLean, MS, RN, CHSE-A of CAMLS,  USF Health CAMLS  provided simulation instructor training to 40 Panamanian health professionals, including those chosen to lead the future CREASS site. They are now able to incorporate what they have learned at their local hospitals.

“The program at CAMLS earlier this year enabled USF Health and CAMLS the opportunity to export talent, tools, and resources directly to Panama through an intensive hands-on training experience. Now those medical professionals can deploy new skills across their country, in both urban and rural areas,” said Carole Post, JD, chief administrative officer, USF Health. “Many of the skills, such as team training techniques, can be used regardless of the equipment the hospitals or clinics have. It is critical that we get this knowledge in the hands of practitioners across the region.”

Victoria L. Rich, PhD, RN, FAAN, senior associate vice president, USF Health, and dean, College of Nursing, and Stephen McGhee, DNP, MSc, PGCE, RNT, RN, VR, instructor, College of Nursing, also visited the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which is a regional subset of the World Health Organization (WHO). PAHO has partnered with USF Health Panama in various research capacities and is interested in supporting USF Health’s work in conducting research on indigenous people and expanding its collaboration with the College of Nursing. In addition, Drs. Rich and McGhee met with Connie Visovsky, PhD, RN, ACNP, FAAN, College of Nursing associate professor, who is doing cancer research in Panama as part of her Fulbright fellowship.

“Our partnerships in Panama represent a truly interprofessional effort from so many health educators and students throughout USF Health. The work we are doing benefits residents of the region, as well as prepares our students to be nimble and effective health providers for patients from many cultures,” said Dean Rich.

The USF Health team visited the USF Elementary Science Teaching program in the City of Knowledge classrooms.

Council members visited with USF College of Education faculty who were conducting the second iteration of the USF Elementary Science Teaching program in the City of Knowledge classrooms. This program, funded by the Panamanian government and coordinated by the USF Health Panama program, has trained more than a hundred English as a Second Language (ESOL) teachers in how to teach science concepts and make science accessible to elementary children from rural and disadvantaged communities. These Panamanian teachers often work in schools with extremely limited or no resources.

Professor Jorge Arosemena, executive president of the City of Knowledge, provides an overview of the campus.

Professor Jorge Arosemena, executive president of the City of Knowledge, also welcomed the group at its offices and provided an overview of the City of Knowledge campus and its vision for the future. Dr. Jorge Motta, national secretary of Science, Technology and Innovation of Panama, Dr. Enrique Mendoza, dean of the College of Medicine, University of Panama, and Dr. Ivonne Torres of the Pharmacology Department, University of Panama, also reviewed with the delegation current student mobility initiatives and plans for future collaboration.

Showing USF Bull spirit outside the USF Health Panama office.

“I warmly applaud all the USF colleges who are taking advantage of the opportunities in Panama,” said Roger Brindley, EdD, USF system vice president, USF World. “They are serving areas in need of health providers and education. The research, partnerships and student experiences all help build a worldview, encouraging communication across cultural barriers. In the years to come, we are keen to focus on partnerships that are interdisciplinary, intercollegiate, sustainable and mutually beneficial.”

Others in the interprofessional delegation visiting Panama included Roberta Burford, JD, associate vice president for Strategic Affairs, USF Health; Cristienn Joudaane, MBA, MS, director, International Programs and Panama Initiatives; Robert A. Pelaia, JD, deputy general counsel, USF; John Sinnott, MD, FACP, chair, Internal Medicine, Morsani College of Medicine; Richard Sobieray, MHA, MsED, senior associate vice president and chief financial officer, USF Health; Gregory Vannette, CPA, CFO of USF Health Professions Conferencing Corporation; and Daniel Vukmer, JD, senior associate vice president of Network Integration, USF Health.

Story by Lucia Raatma, USF Health College of Nursing