USF and Lakeland hospital partnership will bring first wave of resident physicians in July 2015

Partnership announced in Tuesday press conference

LAKELAND - If all goes as planned, Lakeland Regional Medical Center will officially become a teaching hospital in less than three years.

Leaders from the hospital and the University of South Florida announced the details of the partnership in a news conference Tuesday morning.

"This is almost like one of those Match.com or e-Harmony things because our missions, visions, and values are so aligned," said Dr. Stephen Klasko, CEO of USF Health.

Like most solid relationships, this one is starting out slow.

The financial details still have to be worked out, but they expect their first 200 residents -- as in doctors in training -- at the hospital by July 2015.

"We will combine the best of both worlds," said Elaine Thompson, President and CEO of Lakeland Regional Health Systems.  "We will have the personal touch of community, but we will have the science of an academic medical center."

Once the program begins, patients will probably notice it.  Those who agree to participate may, from time to time, see their room get crammed with students in primped lab coats with dangling stethoscopes.

"That is why some of the best hospitals in the country are teaching hospitals, because you have that robust team at the bedside," Thompson said.

Even the name, Lakeland Regional Medical Center, will likely change to better reflect this new partnership that will become front and center.

For the community, this partnership may also provide access to research, specialized care, and cutting edge treatments that are often associated with teaching hospitals.

Plus, USF Health says the majority of its med students typically choose to stay where they had their residency.

"You're going to have this talent coming into the community that you didn't have before," said Mayor Gow Fields of Lakeland.

Fields beamed about the economic impact of the deal, not only from the flock of new doctors coming to town but also the potential flurry of new healthcare businesses.

The hospital sits on what city officials call the medical corridor. They hope the partnership will boost development in that part of the city.

"Bringing USF health into a formal partnership with Lakeland Regional is going to help us take that to another level," Fields said.

Thompson said once the residency program is up and running, they will have the opportunity to recruit residents from all over the country.

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