Second-year medical student Martin Wegman may graduate before the University of Florida’s plans for the Center for Primary Care Education are completed and a new medical education building is built.
But he was still excited about the university’s Nov. 16 announcement that a UF College of Medicine alumnus and his wife have made a significant contribution to jumpstart the project.
“I think it means that the magnitude of our degree is going to increase,” Wegman said. “It’s on the upswing, the UF College of Medicine.”
UF College of Medicine students, faculty and staff celebrated the news that Dr. H. James Free, a member of the College of Medicine’s first graduating class of 1960, and his wife, Carole, made the lead gift toward the construction of the 100,000-square-foot building, to be located next to the Health Professions, Nursing and Pharmacy Building on Newell Road.
“The Frees are remarkable people,” said UF President Bernie Machen. “They embody the qualities we all admire most: modesty, integrity and a commitment to public service. I like to think they also represent what it means to be a University of Florida graduate, and their generous and visionary gift means that ideal will live on for many years to come.”
The Frees’ gift will initiate the College of Medicine’s education building project, and they have requested that the new facility be named in honor of Dr. George T. Harrell, the college’s founding dean who passed away in 1999.
“I am truly inspired by the generosity, the vision and the loyalty that Jim and Carole demonstrate by making such a transformational gift,” said Dr. David S. Guzick, senior vice president for health affairs and president of the UF&Shands Health System. “What could be more appropriate than for the new medical education building to bear the name of the man whose leadership and foresight helped create what is now the J. Hillis Miller Health Science Center?”
Dr. Michael L. Good, dean of the College of Medicine, called the donation a “transformational gift” that would support the medical school’s revised curriculum and elevate medical education throughout the state and country.
Conditions and terms of the gift agreement require that the amount remain confidential.
Harrell, who was hired in 1954 to design and develop the college, handpicked its first group of students and faculty. During his 10 years at UF, Harrell emphasized the importance of training physicians to understand and care for the entire patient.
He advocated training students in small groups to prepare them to work effectively as part of multidisciplinary health care teams, which are key concepts proposed for the College of Medicine’s revised curriculum. The new building will be designed to accommodate this style of learning as well as provide access to advanced technology and simulation.
Dr. Joseph Fantone, senior associate dean for educational affairs, said the new facility will help the college better prepare future physicians and develop new models of care.
In addition to naming the new facility, the George T. Harrell, M.D., Medical Education Building, the College of Medicine also will establish the H. James Free, M.D., Center for Primary Care Education and Innovation. The center’s purpose will be to encourage students to enter and remain in primary care careers, to improve health outcomes for the underserved and ultimately to support the college’s objective to graduate medical professionals with best-in-class skills and motivations to deliver the highest patient care standards.
“Dr. Free has practiced medicine for more than five decades in a truly compassionate and thoughtful manner,” said Good. “He is an excellent role model for our medical students, both in his demonstration of exceptional patient care and in his extraordinary service to his community and now to his alma mater. We are honored and deeply grateful for the gift he and his wife make today.”
One in seven Florida residents live in areas where there is a shortage of primary care physicians, said Dr. Robert Hatch, assistant professor of community health and family medicine and director of medical student education. The new center will help address that need.
Free’s own long career as an internal medicine physician in Clearwater also sets a powerful personal example for future primary care physicians.
“He is absolutely passionate about primary care,” said Hatch. “He values spending time with patients.”