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UVI Launches Construction of SOM Facilities with Groundbreaking Ceremony

UVI School of Medicine groundbreaking

The University of the Virgin Islands held a groundbreaking ceremony this week to commemorate the start of the construction of the University’s medical facilities. Virgin Islands leaders, UVI administrators, faculty, staff and the medical community attended the Medical School Simulation Center groundbreaking on March 3, on the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix.  A similar ceremony was held for the Medical School Classroom Building on March 2, on the St. Thomas Campus.

“The creation of an accredited medical school in the Virgin Islands has been the dream and desire of many Virgin Islanders for many years and we have collectively decided to step out on their dreams and on our faith and commit ourselves to making that dream a reality,” said UVI President David Hall. “It is an act of faith because no one today can guarantee that this dream will come true, but each of us can play a role in claiming it and ushering it into existence.”

“We are stepping out on faith not for ourselves, but because we sincerely believe that this medical school will improve the lives of the people of the Virgin Islands,” said President Hall.

The University leadership team for the Medical School project has been working extremely hard to bring this dream into reality, he said. “Our re-application process is fully underway and we plan to reapply for Liaison Committee for Medical Education preliminary accreditation by Aug. 1,” said Dr. Hall. “Our goal is to open the Medical School in July 2017.”

UVI President David HallDr. Hall said that opening the SOM before receiving accreditation is necessary to  demonstrate to our creditors that the territory and the University is serious and committed to creating a medical school in the Virgin Islands. In order for us to be prepared to open in July 2017 we must begin now, he said.

“The groundbreaking ceremonies serve as an important stage in the development of this transformative project,” President Hall said. “They are a collective statement by the University, the Board of Trustees, the Legislature, Governor Mapp, FirstBank, the Foundation of the University of the Virgin Islands, U.S. Department of Education Historically Black Colleges and Universities Loan Program, and various individual supporters that this project is something to which we are all still deeply committed, and plan to work hard to bring into reality.” 

This center is going to bring to the Virgin Islands and indeed the wider Caribbean, a level of healthcare that is going to lift all of our healthcare delivery needs,” said Dr. Simon Jones-Hendrickson, chief economic and fiscal policy advisor, who spoke Thursday on behalf of the Office of the Governor. “St. Croix will be, in fact, the locust of development in the Virgin Islands.” 

VI Senate President Neville JamesSenate President Neville James and other members of the 31st Legislature attended Thursday’s ceremony. Sen. James said he and other senators toured the Tampa-based simulation center that UVI has partnered with and was blown away by it. “This initiative is real,” he said. “It will make for a better Virgin Islands, definitely for a better St. Croix. The simulation center is going to work for our benefit.”

 SOM Dean Dr. Benjamin Sachs said the center is designed like an airline flight simulator to update and assess physician’s clinical skills. It will also train medical students on new approaches to patient safety.

UVI’s Medical School Simulation Center will be modeled after the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) at the University of South Florida. CAMLS is the largest state-of-the-art healthcare simulation and training center in the mainland United States. “CAMLS is one of the world’s expert in this area and we will use their expertise and personnel to make sure that our simulation center is successful,” said Dr. Sachs.

According to a May 2015 SOM Economic Impact Study, the annual economic impact of the UVI School of Medicine’s Simulation Center, when fully operational, will be approximately $30 million. The SOM Classroom Building will have an economic impact of an estimated $30 million.

UVI School of Medicine groundbreaking ceremonySachs is excited about the possibility that UVI, as a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), will establish a medical school outside of the mainland Unites States. Of the 106 HBCUs in the U.S. only three have medical schools. The UVI SOM would be the first new HBCU medical school in over three decades.

John Harper, of the Board of the Foundation of the University of the Virgin Islands, spoke in support of the endeavor and encouraged others to learn more about the SOM. “We recognize that there is tremendous benefits to the Virgin Islands through improving medical services,” said Harper. “I believe that this is going to be the single most transformative economic development in the Virgin Islands in many decades.”

Medical, academic and Virgin Islands community leaders donned hardhats and held shovels to commemorate the start of construction for the SOM. They also took turns pounding a stake in the ground, to symbolize the faith and commitment that UVI has placed in the fertile soil and soul of the University.  “This Classroom Building on St. Thomas and the Simulation Center on St. Croix are stakes in the ground of our future which when realized will improve the quality of healthcare and create more economic prosperity for the people of the Virgin Islands,” said Dr. Hall.

“The classroom building and the simulation center will be the key places where the future physicians for the Virgin Islands will be trained,” he said. “The medical school project will not only improve the quality of healthcare in the Virgin Islands, but will serve as an economic catalyst for growth and diversification in the territory.” 

Scholarship Program and Gifts to SOM

FirstBank has created the FirstBank Cares Scholarship Fund that will benefit local students. The fund will award a $32,000 scholarship for one year of full-time study with the option of renewal for $128,000 over a four-year period.

“FirstBank is honored to be a part of this historic endeavor and wholeheartedly support the University in their effort to develop and sustain a medical school in the territory,” said Victor Santiago, FirstBank Eastern Caribbean Region Business director. “Through this partnership, we are excited to open the door of opportunity for our local youth to receive a high quality education at what we know will be one of the leading medical school establishments in the Caribbean.”

Cane Bay Partners VI Co-Founders, Kirk Chewning and David Johnson, congratulated the University on their historic groundbreaking of the Medical School and pledged their continued support through an annual donation to the SOM.

“UVI is such a critical institution in the Virgin Islands and we are happy to support their expansion efforts,” said Johnson. “This medical school has so much potential for the territory and its residents and we will continue to do all we can to help it become a reality.”

St. Thomas Classroom Building

The UVI Medical School Classroom Building will be situated adjacent to the Eastern Caribbean Center, overlooking the Herman E. Moore Golf Course, located on the St. Thomas Campus. The over 33,000 square foot, two-story building, will house seminar rooms, a 100-seat lecture hall, library, anatomy/physiology and clinical skill labs, and administration space. Classrooms, lecture halls, conference rooms and seminar rooms will feature smart classroom technology.  The anatomy lab will feature a Anatomage Table for anatomy education using technologically advanced visualization. The Anatomage Table is sufficient to cover the full anatomy class. High accuracy and rich contents offer an excellent replacement to traditional cadaver based dissection. Since the data preserves the real life patient color and shape, the table is more effective than embalmed cadavers.

The building’s contemporary design will utilize traditional native stone and cypress wood found throughout the campus, paying homage to the history of the university, while looking to the future. Construction is expected to be completed in March 2017.  

St. Croix Simulation Center

The Medical School Simulation Center will be constructed just past the main entrance at the northern end of the Sheen Campus. The one-story 21,332 square foot structure, will consist of surgical skills labs, simulation rooms, a 70-seat lecture hall, conference space, a dining hall and administrative offices. These state-of-the art spaces will provide an active learning environment for medical students and visiting physicians. The conference room and lecture hall will feature Smart Classroom Technology. Traditional native stone and cypress wood create a unique identity for the building and a University-wide language that ties the campuses together.

“It has been my privilege to spend my career in academic medicine,” said Dr. Sachs, who spent the majority of his academic career at Harvard University and at Tulane University after Hurricane Katrina. “I fundamentally believe that the UVI School of Medicine is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the territory to train the next generation of physicians.”

These physicians will help to improve the level of care in the territory and have a significant economic impact, he said.

The vision of the UVI SOM is to improve the healthcare of the people in the territory and wider Caribbean community, and to address pressing national and international health issues in support of the global community. The SOM will adopt a proven curriculum and assessment tool through a collaboration agreement with the University of Central Florida.

On Oct. 13, 2015 the Liaison Committee for Medical Education (LCME) Advisory Board voted not to grant preliminary accreditation to the UVI SOM. The UVI Board of trustees decided on Dec. 8, that the University would reapply to the LCME for preliminary accreditation status for the UVI School of Medicine.

UVI will reapply in August of 2016. The UVI SOM’s goal is to open in 2017. The SOM has received support from Gov. Kenneth Mapp, the VI Senate, the LCME, FirstBank VI, the Foundation of the University of the Virgin Islands (FUVI), the Historically Black Colleges and University’s Loan Program, and Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria, who pledged a $30 million gift to the SOM.