The University of South Carolina is looking at sending third- and fourth-year medical students from its Columbia campus to Florence and also starting a physician’s assistant program there with Francis Marion University.

About 55 third-and fourth-year USC medical school students currently go to Greenville every year to complete their clinical training. However, those Columbia students will need to find a new home in two years, when they are displaced in the Upstate by medical students who will be advancing at USC’s new medical school affiliated with the Greenville Hospital System. That school opens next week.

Rather than try to fit the students back onto USC’s medical school campus on Garners Ferry Road for their third and fourth years, USC is taking part in a feasibility study about having the students head to the Pee Dee. A school spokesman said he was not aware of any talks to link with Columbia area hospitals.

USC is conducting the study, due in the fall, as part of an ongoing partnership with Francis Marion and Florence’s two major hospitals, McLeod Health Regional Medical Center and Carolinas Health System.

The Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation – chaired by USC trustee Eddie Floyd – and the city of Florence are helping to pay for the study.

In addition, USC and Francis Marion have talked about working together on a master’s program for physician’s assistants, Francis Marion president Fred Carter said. The schools could file an application with state officials to start the program later this year, he said.

The USC medical school branch campus and the physician’s assistant program could be housed in a new building proposed for downtown Florence. That building also would be home to new master’s degree programs for nurse practitioners and nursing education that Francis Marion plans to start next year.

“There’s a great deal of optimism about marrying these programs,” Carter said.

The Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation would help pay for the building, said Floyd, a Florence surgeon.

USC and Francis Marion also could work together on master’s degrees in public health and in speech, occupational and physical therapy, Carter said.