By Wendy Sarubbi | September 22, 2014 1:10 pm

From the U.S. Tennis Association’s headquarters, the opening of the Orlando VA Medical Center, and a 10-fold increase in medical students, local business leaders got an inside scoop on Medical City’s burgeoning growth at the East Orlando Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Southeast Update September 17. The gathering, at the UCF College of Medicine, featured a panel discussion by four Medical City leaders who are working to build the life sciences cluster into a global center of medical education, research and patient care.

“If you had driven out here six and a half years ago, you would have seen cow pastures, maybe a few dirt roads, and that’s it,” UCF Associate Vice President for University Relations, Fred Kittinger, recalled as he introduced the event. “This growth has taken place because of the tremendous community support, collaboration and some great leadership from the organizations that are out here.”

That growth is made more evident by the active construction throughout Medical City in Orlando’s burgeoning Lake Nona community, located just minutes from Orlando International Airport. Lake Nona Institute President Dr. Thaddeus Seymour, Jr. talked about upcoming new facilities including Medical City’s first hotel: a Courtyard by Marriott/ Residence Inn on Lake Nona Boulevard that is slated to open in mid- 2015. Just down the street, an office building is under construction that will house the Florida Blue Innovation Center and restaurants. “This space will ultimately be a million square feet of retail, research, healthcare and technology here in Medical City,” he said. Other notable additions to Lake Nona include the U.S. Tennis Association, which is moving its headquarters to the Southeast Orlando community along with a 90-court center for international competition. Dr. Seymour also noted the construction of the Gateway Building on Narcoossee Road that will house a second location of the College of Medicine’s physician practice, UCF Health in partnership with Florida Hospital.

From the College of Medicine, Dr. Richard Peppler, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs, told business leaders about the medical school’s first two graduating classes and their residency matches into some of the nation’s top programs. He also presented scores of the college’s first three classes on the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Exam) Step 1 and Step 2 that showed UCF students exceeding the national mean in both basic science and clinical skills. The fact that the College of Medicine has grown from just 40 students in 2009 to over 400 this year wowed the Chamber audience. “Our dean never stops moving,” Dr. Peppler said of the medical school’s founding dean, Dr. Deborah German. “So we expect even more achievement going into 2015.”

Chamber members also received a much-anticipated update from the College of Medicine’s neighbor, The Orlando VA Medical Center. The facility’s Medical Center Director Tim Liezert said the VA will have “keys in hand” to the center in December 2014 or January 2015 and expects to serve more than 3,400 patients a day when it is fully operational next year. The VA facility is already serving dozens of veterans in its domiciliary and community living center, which are now open for homeless and aging veterans.

Just down the street, Nemours Children’s hospital has shown tremendous growth since its opening in October 2012. CEO Roger Oxendale noted that the 630,000- square-foot facility has served children and families from 49 of the 50 states, excluding only Idaho and has served patients from every continent in the world except Antarctica. “When you think about the fact that Medical City is only six and a half years old, we’re not even two years old yet at Nemours” Oxendale said. “We’re very proud of the growth that has occurred; it’s a great testament to all the physicians and staff that are serving our kids and families.”

The Medical City update was just a glimpse into the rapid progress that is happening in Lake Nona, progress that the Medical City institutions are working to continue. Kittinger commented that leadership and teamwork have made the growth possible. “I often joke that it’s as if someone has added water to the world’s largest Chia Pet—and poof! Medical City has appeared here,” he said.

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