UCF College of Medicine Founding Dean is on ‘a great adventure’
By Rosanne Dunkelberger, Contributing Writer
Deborah German, MD, always has believed in dreaming big. When she was offered the opportunity to build a medical school from the ground up in 2006, the rheumatologist who had spent most of her career in medical education signed up for the job and moved to Orlando to shepherd the University of Central Florida College of Medicine into being as Founding Dean.
With a medical school planned on 7,000 acres of virgin land near the runways of one of the world’s busiest airports, Dr. German's dream of a “great adventure” became much, much bigger.
“Just like a shopping mall, a medical city starts with the anchor tenant, which is a medical school,” she said. “If I had come here and my dream was just to build a medical education program that educated medical students to graduate from medical school, that's what we would have, right? I thought it would be great not only to build a medical school but to build a brand-new medical city.”
Today, the UCF medical school is part of the Lake Nona Medical City. The “airotropolis,” as Dr. German calls it, also includes Nemours Children’s Health and a Veteran’s Administration medical center. The UCF Lake Nona Medical Center opened in March 2021. The 64-bed teaching hospital is a joint venture between the college and HCA Healthcare to provide acute care to the local community while training the next generation of physicians and healthcare providers and supporting innovative medical research. A cancer center is in the planning stages.
And she foresees much more to come.
“I still have quite a lot more work to do before the great adventure is complete."
In addition to being the medical school’s Founding Dean, Dr. German serves as UCF’s Vice President for Health Affairs. She envisions all of the university’s health profession graduate programs being based on the Lake Nona campus. On the drawing board are centers dedicated to clinical and research in different specialties.
“Some centers (would be) purely research. If we had a biomolecular science center or a bioengineering center, that would be research. And some centers will be mostly clinical, for example, a cardiovascular center or institute where you go to get all kinds of testing done and nuclear scans,” she explained. “They're all working together, and the research goes better and faster and the care of patients goes better and faster.
“That's how our cancer center is. If there's a new molecular probe happening in the research lab, we're going to know about it. If there's a clinical trial, you can get that. If you're just going for routine breast cancer treatment, you can get your therapy there, see the doctor and go home. But if you fail that treatment, the cancer cluster is right there.”
“I still have quite a lot more work to do before the great adventure is complete,” she said.
Dr. German is quick to acknowledge the contributions of her staff, faculty members, and the Orlando community in making the medical city a success. “I have great people doing great things, she said. “I think in terms of being grateful … nothing that I've achieved has been my own accomplishment.”
Even before the medical school opened, Dr. German had sought out local movers and shakers to share her vision of the possibilities for the Lake Nona Medical City. Initial fundraising efforts were greatly successful, making it possible to award full scholarships covering tuition and living expenses to the inaugural class of 41 students for all four years of medical school.
Embedded into the medical school plaza are bricks purchased by supporters, and some are engraved with messages. Dr. German’s reads: “May this always be a place where dreams take flight.”