Mercer University’s growing reputation as a major player in the preparation of health professionals for Georgia and the Southeast took a major leap forward on July 1 with the establishment of an academic health center. The University’s Board of Trustees on April 20 approved the multi-campus academic health center encompassing the School of Medicine, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Georgia Baptist College of Nursing.
An academic health center, as defined by the Association of Academic Health Centers, is an educational institution that includes a medical school and at least one additional health professions school (e.g. medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health, allied health, dentistry or graduate school), and owns or is affiliated with a hospital or health system.
The Mercer University Health Sciences Center at its inception enrolls more than 1,700 students, employs more than 400 full-time faculty and staff, and each year will graduate more than 500 physicians, nurses and nurse educators, physician assistants, pharmacists, physical therapists, family therapists, public health professionals, and biomedical scientists.
In addition to the three current health sciences units — medicine, pharmacy and nursing — the new Center will open a fourth academic unit on July 1, 2013. The new College of Health Professions will incorporate the master’s-level physician assistant and the doctoral-level physical therapy programs, which currently are housed within the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and the master’s-level public health program, which is currently offered in the School of Medicine. The new college will also allow for the addition of future health sciences programs, such as occupational therapy, as well as expansion of existing programs on multiple Mercer campuses.
“Mercer University has long been recognized as a leader in preparing health care professionals for our state,” said Mercer President William D. Underwood. “Through the establishment of the Mercer Health Sciences Center, the University will be better positioned to meet the rapidly growing demand for health care professionals in Georgia.
“Improving the accessibility, affordability and quality of health care depends on greater teamwork and collaboration among various health care professionals, and few institutions in the Southeast match the breadth of health care programs and professionals found at Mercer,” President Underwood said.
Dr. Hewitt W. (Ted) Matthews, longtime dean of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and vice president for health affairs at the University, moves into the new role of senior vice president for health sciences and will oversee the new Center.
“Establishment of the Mercer Health Sciences Center will enable the University to expand and enhance clinical education opportunities with health systems across the state, align the academic units to increase collaboration on basic, clinical and translational research, as well as educational programs, and attract additional external research funding,” Dr. Matthews said. “It will also allow the University to bring new health sciences programs to communities it serves across the state and provide benefits to undergraduate health sciences programs in Macon, such as biomedical engineering, global health and pre-professional programs.”
The Health Sciences Center has joined the 100-member Association of Academic Health Centers (AAHC). Some of the nation’s most prominent universities are represented in this organization, including all of the University’s aspirant peers. Membership in AAHC will raise Mercer’s national visibility and help strengthen its health sciences programs.
“The Mercer Health Sciences Center will provide a needed focus for development of interprofessional education in our medical school and health profession colleges,” said Dr. William F. Bina III, dean of the Mercer School of Medicine. “I look forward to greater collaboration among our University investigators in the areas of cancer, cardiovascular disease, nutrition and effective community health programs.”
“With the establishment of an academic health center, Mercer is uniquely poised to incorporate learning experiences among health professions students across disciplines to build strong clinical and research teams aimed at improving health outcomes,” said Dr. Linda A. Streit, dean of Mercer’s Georgia Baptist College of Nursing. “Through the development of this center, the transformation of health professions education enables nursing students to engage in dedicated interactive learning as a routine part of their education. The health center deans are dedicated to building a safer and better patient-centered health care system, and this effort begins with the education of future health professionals.”