By Wendy Sarubbi | October 6, 2014 4:19 pm

New U.S. Veterans Administration Secretary Robert McDonald stopped by the College of Medicine October 2 to speak to faculty and new internal medicine residents about opportunities for training and employment at the VA.

Orlando is one of several cities across the country with medical education centers and VA facilities that McDonald will visit during his first 90 days in office. His stop in Lake Nona included a visit to the Orlando VA Medical Center currently under construction and a luncheon presentation for residents being trained through a new partnership residency program between the medical school, the VA and Osceola Regional Medical Center. During his talk, McDonald stressed the VA’s commitment to improve services for veterans and how the VA and UCF College of Medicine can work together to train physicians.

He pledged to keep the VA’s Lake Baldwin facility open for primary care and possibly extend services to complement the offerings at the new medical center in Lake Nona, which is set to open in 2015. One of the goals of his nationwide tour is to regain public trust after a series of scandals involving delays in care for veterans and construction projects that are over-budget and behind schedule.

“This was a great opportunity for residents to meet the people in charge of making improvements to the VA, and a great opportunity for all of us to hear from the person in charge of the changes coming,” said Dr. Abdo Asmar, the medical school’s associate program director of the new residency program.

Residents discussed the unique aspects of patient demographics at a VA hospital and how caring for veterans was impacting their training as physicians. They also asked about future VA funding. “We could see that Secretary McDonald was taking the residents and their comments seriously,” said Dr. Olga Karasik, UCF’s chief medical resident. “More than once he pulled out a little notebook to take notes on what residents were saying. I found that quite remarkable, a sign of open-mindedness, humility and respect to all.”

McDonald was accompanied by Florida Congresswoman Corrine Brown and Congressman Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He also heard from Lake Nona Institute President Thad Seymour who outlined future growth in Medical City, including the recently announced U.S. Tennis Association training headquarters, a new Lake Nona Town Center, and the potential of other medical-related industries and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Dr. Angel Colon Molero, deputy chief of staff of the Orlando VA Medical Center and program director for the new partnership residency program helped organize the visit and said McDonald was impressed with Medical City’s progress and its future. “We’re building it from scratch the right way, and it will help us grow our residency programs in the future with the VA as a partner,” he said.

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