HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital, Okaloosa school district to build health academy

Special to Gannett
USA TODAY NETWORK

FORT WALTON BEACH — HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital and the Okaloosa County School District have announced the launch of the Health Academy of Northwest Florida.

A joint partnership between HCA Florida Fort-Walton Destin Hospital and OCSD, the Health Academy of Northwest Florida is a program of the OCSD's Career and Technical Education Department, which provides high school juniors and seniors interested in health care careers the opportunity to earn industry certifications.

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The Health Academy of Northwest Florida will be housed on the campus of HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital, with the first course offered being a two-year Practical Nursing program. Students enrolled in the Practical Nursing program will learn the foundational principles of basic nursing and medical skills needed to provide care to patients.

Students at Choctawhatchee High School, Fort Walton Beach High School and Niceville High School are eligible to participate in the practical nursing program through the Health Academy of Northwest Florida.

"The health and wellbeing of our community is our top priority, and this partnership allows us to address the needs of an evolving healthcare system while placing students on a successful career path," said Zach McCluskey, CEO of HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital, in a news release.

More about the program

Students enrolled in the practical nursing program will receive hands-on clinical training at HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital during their senior year. Upon completion of the two-year program, students will be eligible to earn a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and/or electrocardiogram technician (EKG) certification — giving them the skills needed to directly enter the workforce.

Juniors who complete the program will have the opportunity for dual enrollment in the licensed practical nurse program at Okaloosa Technical College during their senior year, and get a head start on earning their required course hours toward an LPN license.

Students who successfully complete the practical nursing program through the Health Academy of Northwest Florida will have job placement opportunities throughout HCA Florida Healthcare. In addition, if employed by an HCA Florida Healthcare facility, tuition reimbursement will be available for students wishing to continue on their education path.

"The Health Academy of Northwest Florida will allow our students to participate in a Practical Nursing program that will not only provide industry certifications in the practical nursing field, but will establish a pipeline from high school to employment at local hospitals or other medical facilities," said OCSD Superintendent of Schools Marcus Chambers, in prepared remarks. "We truly appreciate HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital and their vision for helping make this partnership a reality."

In addition to establishing a health care career talent pipeline, as part of the partnership, HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital is providing a 6,375-square-foot-space to OCSD for the academy, which will include two classrooms and two practical labs. Construction of the new space is slated to begin soon, with an anticipated completion date of January 2023.

"We are excited for the opportunities that this partnership will create for our students, and are truly grateful for the generosity of HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital in providing this amazing space for us to host this program," said April Branscome, OCSD career and technical education program director.

The program will kick off its first semester this month, utilizing classroom space at Okaloosa Technical College until construction at HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital is finished.