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How an FIU-Baptist partnership could ‘transform healthcare’ in Miami, and what it means

Baptist Health South Florida and Florida International University’s medical school are now clinical and academic partners — with plans to improve patient care, increase medical research and address healthcare worker shortages in South Florida.

The collaboration will “transform healthcare delivery in South Florida,” Baptist Health President and CEO Bo Boulenger told the Miami Herald on Tuesday following a signing ceremony with FIU President Kenneth Jessell and Juan Cendan, the dean of FIU’s medical school, in the courtyard of the Miami Cancer Institute in Kendall.

The affiliation puts Baptist Health, South Florida’s largest not-for-profit healthcare system, on track to become the teaching hospital for FIU’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. Jackson Health System, Miami-Dade’s public hospital system, serves as the teaching hospital for the University of Miami.

Juan Cendan, Dean of the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at FIU, left; Kenneth Jessell, FIU president, center; and Bo Boulenger, CEO of Baptist Health South Florida, sign papers during a ceremony for the clinical and academic partnership between Baptist Health and Florida International University on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute.

What it means for patients and students

Baptist and FIU leaders say the partnership, described as a “marriage,” will give patients more access to medical professionals, facilities and clinical trials. Baptist conducts about 500 research studies. Boulenger expects the hospital system’s research capabilities to double or triple with the new FIU collaboration.

FIU students in the Wertheim medical school and in other FIU health programs such as nursing will also get more research and training opportunities. Baptist plans to start 22 new residency programs with FIU and also hopes to open a new clinical site at FIU’s main campus on Southwest Eighth Street in West Miami-Dade. Baptist will need to go through the process to be recognized as a teaching hospital.

Cendan, who serves as the dean of FIU’s medical school and as senior vice president for health affairs, said the partnership will help the school streamline the residency training for its students to reduce redundancies and improve their medical education. The residency programs are expected to begin as early as 2025. “If you look at the best healthcare, the best highly ranked healthcare systems in the country, all of them are associated with medical schools,” Cendan told the Miami Herald, noting that residency programs can help lead to better care for patients.

Baptist and FIU officials also believe the new residency programs will encourage students to stay and work in South Florida after they graduate, which could help lessen the strain on hospital systems across the region amid the country’s healthcare worker shortages, including doctors and nurses.

Student reactions

Alex Sutton, the president of FIU’s Student Government Association, said the medical school has various “mechanisms” in place, including boards and committees, to ensure student voices are represented as the partnership unfolds.

Because plans for the partnership was initially announced in April during an FIU Board of Trustees meeting, students “have been actively seeking out relationships, partnerships with Baptist Health and trying to build those bridges right now because they are really excited,” Sutton said. “I think everybody knows, especially including our students, that this is going to take our medical school to the next level.”

The challenge

Herbert Wertheim, inventor and philanthropist that the FIU medical college is named after, speaks during a signing ceremony for the clinical and academic partnership between Baptist Health and Florida International University on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute.
Herbert Wertheim, inventor and philanthropist that the FIU medical college is named after, speaks during a signing ceremony for the clinical and academic partnership between Baptist Health and Florida International University on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute.

Herbert Wertheim, the optometric physician and philanthropist whose name is on FIU’s medical school, also gave Baptist and FIU a challenge during his speech at Tuesday’s ceremony: to make South Florida and the rest of the state a blue zone, areas that have a large number of healthy people who live to more than 100.

He said this partnership, along with other institutions such as the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, can work together to make Florida the “No. 1 blue zone in the United States.”

“We’ve got the research potential, we’ve got the medical facilities,” he said, “and we’ve got the will to do it.” .

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Miami Herald staff writer Jimena Tavel contributed to this report.

This article will be updated.