NAU launches College of Medicine to address Arizona’s critical shortage of primary care physicians

Healthcare students practice on dummy

Northern Arizona University (NAU) today announced the creation of NAU Health, a forward-thinking initiative aimed at improving health outcomes for all Arizonans, particularly those in rural, Indigenous, and underserved communities.

At the center of this initiative is the creation of a distinctive new College of Medicine that will focus on educating primary healthcare providers who reflect the residents of Arizona and who will remain in the state to serve Arizona’s increasingly diverse population.

NAU’s College of Medicine will be intentionally designed to create accelerated pathways and affordable options for Arizona residents seeking an MD that will enable them to practice in-state while accruing minimal debt. This includes plans for a tuition coverage program similar to the Arizona Teachers Academy, where graduates who stay to practice in Arizona after graduation will have educational costs fully covered, as well as a curriculum that foregrounds cultural competency and integrates behavioral health perspectives to improve outcomes for patients and their communities.

“I am proud to announce this bold and transformative step, which builds on NAU’s legacy of serving the people and communities of Arizona by launching NAU Health and paving the way for a College of Medicine in northern Arizona,” said NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera. “With the creation of NAU Health, we recommit ourselves to elevating our existing, exceptional health education programs with the goal of doubling the number of degrees awarded by NAU in the much-needed fields of nursing, health professions, and behavioral health and increasing provider availability in every nook and corner of the state.

Arizona has a well-documented shortage of healthcare professionals, which is most severe outside of major metropolitan areas and among primary healthcare providers. Driven by the Arizona Board of Regents’ (ABOR) Arizona Healthy Tomorrow initiative, NAU will build on its distinctive excellence in community health and health equity, along with more than 60 years of experience with primary health professions programs, to build a College of Medicine designed to address this need. Instead of focusing on a traditional specialized, research-oriented physician education model, NAU’s College of Medicine will be focused on educating resilient, Arizona-serving primary care practitioners who are committed to serving diverse communities and eradicating health disparities throughout the state.

“It is our goal to make sure Arizona families have access to quality, affordable healthcare,” said ABOR Chair Fred DuVal. “President Cruz Rivera’s vision to increase the healthcare workforce of our state through NAU Health will have a lasting impact on the health of Arizona citizens.”

To pursue this ambitious work, NAU has created a new branch of its educational enterprise—NAU Health—to be led by Julie Baldwin, PhD, a nationally recognized expert in health equity. Baldwin serves as executive director of the Center for Health Equity Research at NAU, is a Regents’ professor of health sciences, and is a member of the National Academy of Medicine. Thanks to a generous multi-year philanthropic gift from the northern Arizona-based NARBHA Institute, she will begin her tenure as the founding NARBHA Institute Vice President for NAU Health on Jan. 1.

NAU Health will also introduce significant advances to existing programs in nursing, health professions, and behavioral health programs, highlighted by the following enhancements:

  • Creating a College of Nursing at NAU—NAU’s School of Nursing will be elevated to a free-standing college in recognition of this critical set of academic programs and the need to enhance visibility and impact at the state and national levels. In addition to continued growth in program offerings throughout the state, the College of Nursing will heighten NAU’s ability to address Arizona’s nursing shortage through strengthened partnerships, improved alumni relations, expanded development opportunities, and more robust recruitment and retention of talented, mission-driven nursing faculty.
  • Elevating Health Professions Education in the College of Health and Human Services—NAU will double the number of degrees awarded and students retained to practice in Arizona across the health professions disciplines that include physical and occupational therapy, physician assistant studies, dental hygiene, and more. Emphasis will be placed on creating pathways and partnerships with community colleges to accelerate educational attainment in these fields; the development of a core interprofessional program that supports provider education across disciplines with skills aligned with the College of Medicine, including community practice and health equity; and the creation of residency and credential programs for practicing healthcare providers to advance practice in rural and underserved communities.

“The holistic approach of NAU Health is poised to strengthen health systems and increase workforce capacity, improving access to care for vulnerable patients and populations in Arizona,” Cruz Rivera said. “Consistent with NAU’s guiding vision to drive economic mobility and social impact, the initiatives that comprise NAU Health will ensure that all Arizonans have an opportunity for a brighter, healthier future.” 

NAU Communications