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Five Polk Colleges Prepare Students for Health Sciences Careers

November 22, 2022 News, Talent Pipeline

As Polk County remains a hotbed for growth in the medical and health sciences fields, our local institutions of higher education continue to adapt their current programs and add new ones to ensure a strong and talented health sciences workforce to support the industry. 

Lakeland Regional Health is building new facilities in North and South Lakeland. In the last year, Orlando Health has announced it is moving into the county. They have secured a location along the Polk Parkway at Lakeland Highlands Road. And other health-care providers and hospitals are continuing to expand their services and locations. 

Why? Florida’s population is projected to increase 21% by 2035; the population of those 65 and above is projected to increase by 51%, according to a report prepared by the Florida Hospital Association projecting nursing workforce needs, said Polk State College President Angela Garcia Falconetti. “This report also found that 13 years from now, Florida will lack 59,100 nurses, including 37,400 registered nurses (RN) and 21,700 licensed practical nurses (LPN).” 

Most of the colleges with health sciences programs partner with hospitals, clinics and more – both near and far. They include entities such as AdventHealth Heart of Florida, Lakeland Regional Health, Winter Haven Hospital – BayCare, Bartow Regional Medical Center, Orlando Health Regional Medical Center, Watson Clinic, Hollis Cancer Center and Tampa General. 

Keiser University Chancellor Arthur Keiser said Polk County’s explosive growth has created a need for qualified nursing practitioners. “With our health-care partners, we’re working to strengthen the region’s economy and provide residents with high-quality health care, all while helping students from diverse backgrounds achieve their educational and career goals.” 

Read more about the five institutions offering everything from certificates and training to master’s and doctoral degrees.  

Polk State College – Health Sciences Program

Polk State College offers several degrees that support nursing and medical sciences, providing significiant health sciences workforce resources including Cardiovascular Technology, Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Emergency Medical Services, Medical Records Transcriptionist, Nursing and Occupational Therapy Assistant. It also offers a BSN and an Associate in Science in Business Administration and Bachelor of Applied Science degrees, both of which offer a specialization in Health-care Administration.  

“These areas consistently make the list of occupations in demand in Polk County,” Falconetti said. In Polk County, most of the programs the college offers are on the list, as well as medical assistants, secretaries, and records and health information technicians. 

“Across these professions, there are more than 4,600 jobs that need to be filled annually, and these numbers continue to grow. As Polk County’s largest-serving higher education and workforce training institution with more than 14,000 degree-seeking students each year, it is important for the college to understand the needs of the community so that it can support growth through expansion in enrollment, programs and geographic footprint.” 

The college’s programs include expert faculty and staff with professional experience who provide firsthand knowledge and quality hands-on simulation experiences in the classroom and laboratory environments, she said. The college also prides itself on its partnerships with local hospitals and health-care facilities. 

Those partnerships are critical, she said. “Polk State students receive exceptional, relevant training in the clinical settings in which the majority of graduates go on to serve, helping to ensure that they are prepared for success on day one after graduation.” 

One partnership has recently paid off. AdventHealth is donating $1.7 million to the Polk State College Foundation to provide resources to enhance the college’s nursing program. 

For more information, visit 

Southeastern Unviersity – Health Sciences Program

In August, Southeastern University launched its online-only Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with specialty tracks in nursing administration and nursing education. The program will prepare nurses who want to advance in their career while filling the critical need for advanced health-care providers, said Aimee Franklin, dean of the College of Natural and Health Sciences.  

The university also offers a bachelor’s degree in nursing and an RN to BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree, along with bachelor’s degrees in Health Science and Business and Biology and Medical Sciences, among others. 

It collaborates with Lakeland Regional Health (LRH) to provide interns, Franklin said. The goal of internships is twofold: allowing students to get practical, hands-on experience while helping LRH.  

“It’s part of the curriculum for students to do a one-semester clinical research internship with the associate vice president of research at LRH,” Franklin said. The program started in January 2022 and is now in its third semester. “Several students have completed it and gained employment there. It really makes our students more competitive applicants for graduate degree programs in the health profession.” 

Students also gain experience volunteering at LRH’s medical clinic on SEU’s campus, Franklin said. Exposure to the profession in any place and at any level can help students decide whether they really want a career in medicine, she said.  

“Health care is a hands-on profession. We can prepare them academically all we want. Putting that knowledge into action is how you treat and care for people. The more exposure they have is what’s going to help them,” she said. “The burnout and dropout rates are so high in this field, and some of that might be attributable to students not knowing what they are getting into. Internships solidify the choices students are making careerwise. We recommend they start shadowing in their freshman and sophomore years so they can determine which path they want to take.” 

Opportunities in local hospitals, especially with LRH getting ready to launch its residency program, may help students decide to stay in or return to Polk County, Franklin said. “When students have a good experience in Central Florida, they likely will return, even if they leave to go to medical school. ” 

She said one student from Rhode Island went to physician assistant school in Pennsylvania and now works in Tampa. One from Oklahoma went to medical school in Florida and is doing a residency in Tampa. “If they are invested in the community and have positive experiences, when they go to look for jobs, they are coming back to Florida, and that’s great for economic growth – young talent and a pipeline for the health sciences jobs that are available.  

More information is available at 

Florida Southern College – Health Sciences Program

Florida Southern College offers three nursing degrees:  

  • The BSN prepares registered nurses.  
  • The MSN prepares nursing practitioners, educators and administrative leaders. 
  • The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) prepares nurses who seek to practice at the highest levels. 

It also offers programs that support the health sciences, including physical therapy, health-care management, exercise science and pre-health – everything from pre-anesthesiology assistant to pre-speech language pathology. 

As people age, they often experience more health complications, prompting them to see health-care providers, said Dr. Linda Comer, dean of the Ann Blanton Edwards School of Nursing and Health Sciences. “Among people ages 65 and over, 20% report their overall health as ‘fair’ or ‘poor.’  People aged 55 and over account for over half of the total health spending. In states like Florida with a large aging population, the impact is significant on the need for nurses to provide quality care.” 

By 2034, 77 million people will be 65 and older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “With larger numbers of older adults, there will be an increased need for geriatric care, including care for individuals with chronic diseases and comorbidities.”    

The college offers experiential learning as part of its engaged learning model. “When students learn by doing, they are better able to see how what they are learning in the classroom is applicable to contexts outside of it,” said Provost Brad Hollingshead. “Experiential learning provides an opportunity for students to engage actively, which not only supports their classroom learning but also helps them to gain insights into their interests and values while developing essential professional skills.” 

Comer said all nursing students take lab courses and intern with any of FSC’s 800 partner health-care systems. “These planned learning activities in nursing practice allow students to understand, perform and refine professional competencies.” 

One unique aspect of FSC’s BSN program: “It features direct entry, which means that students who qualify for admission begin nursing classes their freshman year and clinical experiences their sophomore year,” Comer said. “This curriculum allows students to begin to develop their professional nursing identities earlier and provides more time for skill refinement.” 

The pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is 92%, something the college takes pride in, she said.  

More information is available at  

Keiser University – Health Sciences Program

Keiser University also prepares students to enter the workforce ready to contribute, Chancellor Keiser said. In 2021, 773 students received their RN degrees. Almost 81% passed the NCLEX test. 

“We strive to meet the educational demands of the communities we serve throughout Florida,” Keiser said. “We offer degree programs from the associate all the way to the doctoral levels because our students come to us at different points in their educational and professional careers. Some are just beginning their educational journeys while others are looking to advance their careers.” 

Like other institutions of higher education, Keiser University students receive hands-on experience in labs and during clinical rotations. “They are exposed to situational learning opportunities that help them master the day-to-day tasks that they will encounter as nursing practitioners. The resources we utilize in our simulation labs are state-of-the art, and we’ve made major investments in this technology to ensure our students train using the most updated facilities,” Keiser said. 

The university keeps its programs relevant by partnering and working with industry advisory boards “to evaluate the strength of our curriculum and assess the educational needs of the communities we serve,” Keiser said. 

The university has continued to put students first since its founding in 1977. That’s important for two reasons, Keiser said.  

  • “We understand that today’s students have many responsibilities and obligations in their lives. We deliver the same quality education through unique scheduling options to accommodate our students’ busy schedules. Classes occur in a one-month-at-a-time schedule that eliminates juggling several classes or multiple assignments and exams simultaneously. This focused approach on a single class, combined with small class size, ensures easy access to faculty and hands-on education that meets their needs.” 
  • The average age of students attending Keiser is 27. “Many of our students are working parents juggling many other responsibilities. Using online learning, we’re able to provide them with the same high-quality education with the flexible scheduling and access that they’re seeking to take the next steps in their careers.” 

Keiser started online classes in 1998 and has become a leader in the field. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, about “80 schools across the U.S. placed their students online with Keiser University to ensure uninterrupted learning occurred,” the chancellor said. 

Visit for more information. 


Webber International’s nursing and health services administration programs also contribute to the talent pipeline in those fields. Find more information at 

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