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Dr. Julie Merten excited to lead UNF MedNexus

Julie Merten HeadshotThe need for talented healthcare professionals has steadily grown in Florida and around the country over the past decade, a crisis that was intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNF MedNexus was created as a collaboration between the healthcare industry and educators to help fill the talent pipeline and to also be a resource for biomedical research and innovation.

Developed just before the pandemic, the program established and expanded partnerships with several healthcare organizations to help fill the region’s needed professional roles. The nursing program launched in Flagler County saw the first cohort of students graduate this summer and the next cohort set to graduate next year. UNF partnered with HCA Florida Healthcare to enable their nurses to participate in a six-week, continuing education program at the MedNexus Deerwood simulation center. The program has also focused on innovation in growing the University’s 3D printing capabilities and high-tech lab equipment for molecular research.

“With generous support from the Florida Legislature, MedNexus was created to help bolster nursing education and to intervene and help prevent the anticipated decline in nursing,” said Dr. Julie Merten, associate dean of UNF MedNexus. “We’re answering this call by supporting efforts to increase nursing program enrollment and expanding growth opportunities at the Deerwood Center site in Jacksonville in collaboration with our academic partnership with Florida State College at Jacksonville.”

Merten has been appointed to lead the next phase of UNF MedNexus. She has been with UNF for 18 years, including as a professor in the Department of Public Health and most recently as director of the Office of Faculty Excellence.

“Julie brings a wealth of institutional knowledge and community connections to this role,” said UNF President Moez Limayem. “I am confident in her leadership and optimistic about the future of UNF MedNexus.”

Looking Forward

“The vision of MedNexus is to serve as a hub for problem-solving and innovation, connecting the healthcare and biomedical professional communities to UNF students and resources,” said Merten. “I led the public health internship program at UNF for more than 15 years crafting mutually beneficial relationships with the leading healthcare institutions in North Florida, and I look forward to expanding and forming new partnerships with MedNexus.”

Nursing student practicing CPR on a dummy patient while professors instructUNF nursing students receive training in the MedNexus simulation labThe next phase of MedNexus will focus on three pillars to “Educate, Collaborate and Innovate.” This includes utilizing the simulation labs and spaces at the Deerwood Center site, expanding outreach through the Palm Coast initiative, growing nursing education in collaboration with the School of Nursing, utilizing transformational technology through research and development to improve healthcare, and targeting other innovative signature projects based on community need.

The 40,000 square-foot Deerwood site with its simulation center affords MedNexus the ability to educate and develop high-quality, trained nurses and medical professionals. The site has eight individual simulation rooms, each with its own adjoining full-size control room equipped with state-of-the-art technology to allow for real and authentic healthcare training experiences.

In addition to growing the Deerwood campus site into a destination for simulation education and healthcare innovation, MedNexus funds four full-time nursing faculty lines, staffs the Deerwood simulation center and awards more than a $1 million in student scholarships each year.

The MedNexus program is also continuing to support the city of Palm Coast with its endeavors to becoming a regional healthcare hub.

“The Palm Coast and Flagler County area is poised to become a regional healthcare hub and presents a great opportunity for UNF to be a partner in this growth,” Merten said. “This initiative enforces our partnership with the county and helps to strengthen the viability of sustaining adequate healthcare professionals for Florida’s evolving healthcare needs.”

Palm Coast efforts will focus on training nurses through the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program (RN to BSN), a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Leadership and Administration, and a Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI). There are also special initiatives geared towards Palm Coast and Flagler County such as a new program to provide virtual care that tracks health and fitness for area veterans. Area high school students will also participate in the third annual MedNexus Innovation Challenge, a team-based entrepreneurship competition, where students pitch solutions to healthcare challenges. The theme for 2024 will be social media addiction among adolescents and students will develop community-based interventions to reduce addiction.