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Jax Daily Record Friday, Nov. 1, 201905:20 AM EST

University of North Florida program would place students in health care jobs

The $12 million MedNEX program would extend to Flagler County.
by: Katie Garwood Staff Writer

The State University System Board of Governors Strategic Planning Committee approved the University of North Florida’s plan to create a Medical Nexus, or MedNEX, the nation’s first university-based health care network.

The committee approved the proposal Oct. 3. Upon approval by the Board of Governors, the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis would need to sign off on it.

 The board is the 17-member governing body for the state’s university system.

 According to the legislative budget request for MedNEX, the program is interdisciplinary and brings together state universities and state colleges with health care organizations.

In turn, the collaboration is designed to place students in jobs within the field and create “a hub of scholarly advancement in healthcare fields for NE Florida and the state.”

UNF is requesting $12 million from the state to fund the program.

Half of that money recurs annually and will help to pay for faculty and professional teaching staff, scholarships and lab equipment. 

UNF spokeswoman Amanda Ennis said it would be premature for the university to comment on the project while it’s in the proposal stage. 

David Szymanski, UNF president, presented the proposal at the Oct. 3 board of governors committee meeting at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. 

He said since opening a medical school at UNF may not be feasible, creating the nexus would be a way for UNF to provide health care education, and fill needs for area health care providers. 

According to the proposal, 200,000 health care jobs are expected to be created in Florida between 2016 and 2024. There is expected to be a 5.4% decline in freshman attendance at Florida colleges and universities by 2025.

Northeast Florida already is a hub for health care. The university can be a “leader and catalyst” in solving the need for health care professionals regionally and statewide because UNF has strong programs in disciplines like nursing and rehabilitation.

Advent Health, Mayo Clinic and Memorial Hospital supported the concept, according to the proposal. It also noted that none of the organizations UNF approached declined participation. 

Szymanski told the committee that in addition to those listed in the proposal, the city of Jacksonville, Florida State University and Johns Hopkins University expressed interest in becoming involved in the program.

The proposal says the first partnership UNF makes outside of Jacksonville will be with Palm Coast and Flagler County. A partnership between the city of Palm Coast, AdventHealth, Allete Clean Energy and Flagler County Schools is in development. 

“This program has the potential to create learning and training opportunities for students, developing the next generation of health care providers, while also fueling economic growth within our communities throughout the region,” said AdventHealth spokeswoman Lindsay Cashio.

AdventHealth operates hospitals in Palm Coast, Daytona Beach and across Florida to Orlando and Tampa. 

Daytona State College also will be involved. That includes the addition of classroom and lab space to accommodate training for Jacksonville and Daytona professionals. 

MedNEX will provide training and programming to fill each area’s workforce needs.

For Flagler County, it’s converting students with associate degrees in nursing to registered nurses, and converting registered nurses to doctors of nursing practice and physical therapists. 

Cashio said the American Association of Colleges of Nursing estimates that by 2030, a million nurses will retire from the workforce. 

“Programs like the one UNF has proposed seek to answer this urgent need and we look forward to working together to develop the next generation of health care workers,” Cashio said.

UNF MedNEX plans to offer programming in nursing, rehabilitation, counseling, nutrition, medical engineering, analytics, psychology and computing, among other courses.

More specialized programs in high-need areas include genetic counseling, health informatics, mental health and occupational and physical therapy. 

Organizations that partner with MedNEX could provide students with scholarship funding, teachers from area hospitals, patient care certifications, clinical rotations and lab space. 

Full scholarships will be awarded to students in the MedNEX program who agree to work in Florida for a certain time after graduating. 

There also would be an opportunity for Flagler Palm Coast High School students to dual-enroll in the program, which is designed to prepare students for a health care major. 


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