FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. (WKRG) — A new partnership between Okaloosa County School District and HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital birthed the The Health Academy of Northwest Florida for nursing students in the region.

Under the HCA healthcare umbrella, the curriculum will give high school and college credit for a hands-on practical nursing program in local medical facilities.

After completion of the program, students can earn their Certified Nursing Assistant and/or Electrocardiogram Technician certification.

“Right now we have a partnership with Okaloosa Technical College for their LPN program,” said April Branscome with OCSD Career and Technical Education Department. “They can dual enroll there, but we’re working on Northwest Florida State College and University of West Florida potentially to get them some dual enrollment opportunities through those two schools.”

The classes are offered to juniors and seniors at Choctawhatchee High School, Fort Walton Beach High School, and Niceville High School. Branscome said the first semester will be housed at the Okaloosa Technical College.

HCA Fort Walton-Destin Hospital is providing a nearly 6,400-square-foot building for OCSD to renovate into 2 classrooms and 2 nursing labs for the program. The new lab will be ready for the January 2023 semester.

“We have such a shortage at the hospital you know, that’s one of the reasons they’re doing this because they see the shortage that they’re experiencing it right now,” said Branscome. “We even see bigger and better things from this partnership that we’re hoping to extend it across the state.” 

Branscome said the CTE is dedicated to finding needs with education gaps in the community that can get kids into the workforce earlier. This year, CTE also started a new artificial intelligence program in the district.

“So we’re filling that pipeline and one of the crucial things too in my opinion and for many people around the state and country is that we need to get our students on board early and start exposing them to these different careers early before they get into a program,” said Branscome. “So now our students are getting a taste of what the medical field is going to be like a nursing program, what it would be like to be a nurse and then they can make that decision where they want to go forward and meet that. Demand that our community needs.”

Students who complete the two-year program can land jobs inside the same HCA family. Those that take the next step with education can receive tuition reimbursement from HCA while working and in school.

Students and parents should contact the CTE or the school guidance counselor for more information.