Northern Arizona University will play a major role in educating future health care professionals, and a ceremony Tuesday in downtown Phoenix was one of the first steps toward accomplishing that goal.

University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix in Collaboration with Arizona State University officially opened Oct. 10 to much fanfare from government and education leaders who trumpeted the partnership between the state’s three public universities.

“We recognize and celebrate the expanding opportunities for research partnerships and the strength of a broad array of excellent providers who will offer clinical experiences for students in medicine, nursing, pharmacy and other health professions,” said Bob Bulla, president of the Arizona Board of Regents.

Recognizing NAU President John Haeger in the crowd, Bulla urged him to stand, saying “President Haeger and the Board of Regents are pursuing the addition of NAU allied health programs to the mix of academic opportunities at this location. John, we hope that NAU will join its sister institutions at this location very soon.”

About 800 people attended the ceremony on the site of the former Phoenix Union High School buildings. Along with Bulla, featured speakers included Gov. Janet Napolitano, UofA President Robert Shelton, ASU President Michael Crow and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon.

The Board of Regents has approved NAU budget plans to initially invest about $6 million to expand health professions programs, helping Arizona cope with significant shortages in the state’s health care workforce.

“This is an enormous opportunity for NAU to partner with the UofA and ASU in the state’s largest city to provide the education for health care workers of the future,” Haeger said. “NAU is looking at expanding its health professions programs on the Flagstaff campus and in Phoenix.”

David Patton, dean of the Consortium of Professional Schools, also is pleased with the opportunities for NAU. “The ceremony in Phoenix was an exciting step for NAU and for the School of Health Professions,” he said. “Expansion of health programs at NAU will help meet Arizona’s shortages in the health care job market.”

Patton pointed out, for example, the number of jobs for nurses is about 2,700 annually but only 1,300 students are graduating to compete for these openings.

“Other occupations such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and radiation therapy follow the same trend,” he said. “NAU will be working in partnership with the new medical school in Phoenix where laboratories and clinics will be available for students to get experience to meet degree requirements. Our students and the citizens of Arizona will benefit from this partnership.”

NAU plans to use $2.16 million this fiscal year from the Technology and Research Initiative Fund to expand NAU’s existing programs in physical therapy, nursing and possibly others. The TRIF money also would provide seed funding to consider developing other programs currently not offered in Arizona by a public university, including physician assistant and occupational therapy.

The TRIF funds would allow NAU to hire a director and necessary staff for the health professions initiative as well as allow rapid expansion of new laboratory and clinical spaces on the Flagstaff campus.

NAU’s health programs and UofA’s pharmacy program could join ASU’s nursing and biomedical informatics programs and UofA’s medical school on the campus. Already on the Phoenix campus are the Translational Genomics Research Institute and the International Genomics Consortium.

Plans call for 24 medical students to begin studies in fall 2007.