At a meeting of the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) in Flagstaff, Northern Arizona University announced the launch of NAU Health—a new step on the university’s journey to educate and serve the people of Arizona. As part of the initiative, NAU medical school will create a medical school in an effort by the state’s public university system to fill gaps in Arizona’s health care workforce, university officials said.

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“Our state faces a critical need for more providers in primary care, nursing, health professions, and behavioral health fields, especially in rural, Indigenous, and underserved communities,” said NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera. “NAU Health is uniquely positioned to address this need through a holistic and innovative approach to healthcare education across the disciplines. will create a medical school as part of an effort by the state’s public university system to fill gaps in Arizona’s health care workforce, university officials said.”

At the center of this initiative is the creation of a distinctive College of Medicine at NAU that will focus on educating primary healthcare providers who reflect the residents of Arizona and who will be inclined to remain in the state to serve Arizona’s increasingly diverse population. NAU’s College of Medicine will be intentionally designed to create accelerated MD pathways and affordable options for Arizona residents seeking to graduate and practice in-state with minimal debt. This includes plans for a tuition coverage program similar to the Arizona Teachers Academy, where graduates who stay to practice in Arizona after graduation will have their educational costs fully covered, as well as a curriculum that foregrounds cultural competency and integrates significant behavioral health perspectives to improve outcomes for patients and their communities. 

“In addition, we are expanding and enhancing our work in nursing and the health professions, with the goal of doubling the number of degrees awarded by NAU in these high-demand fields by 2030,” Rivera said. “To bolster our work in nursing at the state and national level, we are creating a free-standing College of Nursing. Already, the School of Nursing is on an impressive trajectory thanks to the leadership of Executive Director Janina Johnson, and I look forward to the official launch of the College of Nursing next academic year and to the strengthened partnerships and opportunities this transformation will yield.”

In the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS), Dean Lillian Smith is leading efforts to create and implement a foundation of interprofessional education that blends public and community health into professional programs, a statewide ecosystem of pathways to health professions, and programming that extends and enhances impact for practitioners in rural communities. In reflection of this strategic repositioning of the college and its ambitious goals, CHHS is settling on a new name which we expect to be finalized soon: the College of Health Sciences and Professions.

NAU Health will be led by Dr. Julie Baldwin, a nationally recognized expert in health equity, who serves as executive director of the Center for Health Equity Research at NAU, is a Regents’ professor of health sciences, and is a member of the National Academy of Medicine. Thanks to a generous multi-year philanthropic gift from the northern Arizona-based NARBHA Institute, she will begin her tenure as the founding NARBHA Institute Vice President for NAU Health on Jan. 1.