nursing students listen to a heart
The new Health Sciences building at App State will provide room for several fast-growing degree programs, including a new masters in nursing degree. Photo courtesy Appalachian State University

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By Thomas Goldsmith

A new College of Health Sciences building for Appalachian State University in Boone will broaden students’ educational experience as well as the college’s reach into underserved Western North Carolina counties, the college dean said Monday.

When the 203,000-square-foot building breaks ground next week it will consolidate several fast-growing degree programs, Dean Fred Whitt said.

“We are trying to set up interprofessional delivery of services,” Whitt said. “We think we’ll be training the health-care leaders of tomorrow today.”

In anticipation of an increasingly team-oriented health-care environment, the new building will allow speech therapists, nurse practitioners, dieticians, physical therapists and other specialists to train side-by-side.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s office announced last week that contracts have been let for the facility, using $70 million in funding from the state’s Connect NC initiative. The Council of State approved $200 million June 7 in the first segment of the $2 billion bond program voters OK’ed in March.

Since 2008, the College of Health Sciences, with more than 3,300 students, has more than doubled its enrollment.

“We had just run out of room,” Whitt said.

The new Health Sciences building at App State will provide room for several fast-growing degree programs, including a new masters program in nursing. Photo courtesy Appalachian State University

The new facility will offer “specialty laboratories, classrooms and support space centralizing several different health sciences degree programs under one roof,” according to a news release.

“New university facilities like the Health Sciences Building at Appalachian State will prepare students for high-demand medical careers to further enhance the health and quality of life in the region and state,” McCrory said in a statement.

The 16-county area around Boone has some of the state’s largest deficits in health-care professionals per 10,000 residents, Whitt said. Because professionals often remain in the area where they are educated, Western North Carolina should see ongoing benefit from the college’s growth.

“If you are trained in rural areas, you’ll want to go back and work in rural areas,” Whitt said. “When you get in the rural health area, it really means enhancing the quality of life in the region. In some counties up here, you may have only one physical therapist.”

In 2015, the college received funding for a Rural Health Care Services Outreach Program to provide services through partnerships with Wake Forest School of Medicine physician-assistant program and the High Country Council on Governments Area Agency on Aging.

How’s that arrangement working out?

“Awesome,” Whitt said. “They have a cohort of physician assistant students training here in our college.

“On the other hand, for our benefit, we are able to place some of our nursing students in clinical rotations in certain specialty areas at Wake Forest Baptist.”

Health-care jobs are represent one of the state’s strongest employment sectors, with about 400,000 people working as health-care practitioners, technicians or support employees, according to the commerce department’s Labor and Economic Analysis Division.

ASU offers undergraduate degrees in areas including athletic training, communication sciences and disorders, exercise science, health-care management, nursing, nutrition and recreation management, as well as masters programs in exercise science, nutrition, speech language pathology, social work and health administration.

A master’s program in nursing is slated to begin this fall.

[box style=”2″]This story was made possible by a grant from the Winston-Salem Foundation to examine issues in rural health in North Carolina. [/box]

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Thomas Goldsmith

Thomas Goldsmith worked in daily newspapers for 33 years before joining North Carolina Health News. Goldsmith is a native Tar Heel who attended the UNC-Chapel Hill, and worked at newspapers in Tennessee...