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Jacksonville, FL (August 23, 2022) – Council Member Danny Becton had the opportunity to meet with new University of North Florida (UNF) President Moez Limayem and his team from the new MedNexus academic facility at the FSCJ-Deerwood Campus recently. The MedNexus team included UNF Past President David Szymanski, and MedNexus Global and Academic Partnerships Director Karen Bowling. As described on UNF’s MedNexus website, “MedNexus is the nation’s first comprehensive, university-based medical and healthcare nexus that puts UNF at the center of the Northeast Florida healthcare enterprise by connecting healthcare providers with UNF students, faculty, and researchers”.

In early 2020, the University of North Florida proposed a solution to what it saw as an exponential increase in the need for qualified nurses and medical practitioners in Northeast Florida. Their projections indicated that 23% of Florida’s job growth within 2016-2024 would demand approximately 200,000 new jobs in the healthcare industry. The solution to that demand would be known as UNF’s MedNexus, a collaborative effort to expand educational programs and enhance medical research, providing clinical training in combination with the academic education given at UNF’s main campus. When the State passed its 2020-21 budget, a grant of just under $6 million was given to the University that kick-started the first phase of the MedNexus program.

MedNexus is a state-of-the-art clinical medical training facility which includes multiple simulations replicating activities for delivering home care, emergency/operating room treatment and skilled labs for trauma, birthing, and pediatrics. Mannequins are utilized and are fully capable of replicating multiple health emergencies to provide real-life scenarios for students. The center also has a complete learning system space for recording and video monitoring, as well as counseling and debriefing rooms. As MedNexus grows, UNF anticipates that many of its other programs such as physical therapy, nutrition and dietetics, clinical mental health counseling, and athletic training will use the center as well.

This educational facility is a very impressive beginning to what will be a tremendous asset for the University of North Florida and the City of Jacksonville”, Council Member Becton explained. “My observation of what is being provided for these students might be compared to the airline industry in having flight simulators for its training. Allowing for real life situations that can be simulated, changed and monitored, giving its students the benefit of having real life experiences but not having to be in a real-life crisis”, Council Member Becton added. “In addition, it was also explained that getting students time and experience in actual hospitals is quite difficult due to limited positions and facilities due to most hospitals being short staffed and very busy”, Council Member Becton concluded.

President Limayen welcomed Council Member Becton stating, “It is a privilege to have you here with us this afternoon to tour our newest state-of-the art facility.  You will find this to be a very unique and different facility compared to others.”  Conrad Dove, the program’s head and a current instructor, gave a hands-on guided tour, emphasizing the commitment to the healthcare industry that UNF is making. Mr. Dove, having 27 years of experience from The Mayo Clinic, gave insight on the advanced technologies available to their students. “The typical in-house clinical takes about 26,000 learner hours”, Conrad Dove stated. “Our goal, if we just assist with accomplishing a quarter of that, imagine the workload that we can reduce and the stress-load that we can take off our clinical partners”, he added. “If we can do it here and now, we’re building capable and competent nurses so that when they do step foot in the actual clinical space, they’ve done it before,” Mr. Dove concluded.

David Szymanski, MedNexus head, also stated, “Companies and small businesses in our area can also benefit greatly from what we do here”, Szymanski added. “Even companies like Johnson & Johnson are looking to partner and possibly lease space with us, due to not having the space to do what they need to accomplish”, Szymanski noted.  Council Member Becton responded that, “the more UNF can partner with the small business community the better.  In having run a small business for 28 years, myself, I certainly understand and wished, I had the tools and relationships available to recruit aspiring career enthusiasts to my company, and to give them the opportunity to hone their skills, even further.”

One of the more unique aspects of MedNexus is their birthing suite, a state-of-the art simulator having the ability to simulate a human birth.  “Most clinicals don’t have this, and if you do a clinical at a specific facility that doesn’t deliver babies you probably will never see a baby delivered,” Dr. Szymanski stated, “but here we can push every single nursing student through multiple labor and delivery scenarios, multiple critical care baby scenarios, etc.  The list goes on and on, so we’re able to not only to provide a more qualified nurse, but we’re also able to provide a nurse that’s competent in their actions. I want nurses to get to their career destinations and add value to the facility, knowing that those nurses came from UNF,” Szymanski concluded.

The initial phase of UNF MedNexus encompasses new multi-county partnerships to educate healthcare workers, with a strong emphasis on nurses.  UNF MedNexus future plans aim to align course programming with innovations, industry changes and human resource needs within both the NE-FL region and beyond.  Additional phases include heightened medical research through partner collaborations with educational institutions and research hospitals throughout Florida.

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By Joe Johnson, District 11 Executive Council Assistant and CM Danny Becton.