Health and Biomedical
Health & Biomedical Consists of: Medical Devices, Medical Research and Health Care IT.
Spotlight on Success
Northeast Florida continues to grow as a destination for health and wellness. Significant advancements in technology and bioscience continue to drive this ever-growing industry in the region.
Associate Software Engineer, Forcura
Internships are an excellent way to learn valuable work experience about your industry. Some students are also able to translate the internship experience into being a full-time employee as Christopher Carter did at Forcura, a leading healthcare technology company headquartered in Jacksonville.
A graduate of the University of North Florida (UNF), Carter is an Associate Software Engineer at Forcura. Originally from Sarasota, Carter stayed in Jacksonville to begin his career after earning a bachelor's degree in information systems and turning his short-term internship at Forcura into a rewarding full-time position.
"Everything I'm doing at Forcura is impacting someone's daily life and making life more efficient," Carter said.
Forcura's platform enables safer patient care transitions and more effective coordination. It improves continuity of care via technology and analytics, and it is driven by the company's deep commitment to enabling better patient care. Carter's focus is on functionality to improve and enhance the user's everyday workflow.
"My contributions help make the information flow smoother," Carter said. "I have the opportunity to be a part of the solution, which is very satisfying."
Carter learned about internships at Forcura from a friend at UNF. At Forcura, attracting and retaining top talent through innovation and company culture is a high priority. The company has a successful internship program and has converted 70% of its interns to full-time employees since 2018. Carter is pleased to begin his career in Jacksonville.
Carter's interest in technology developed as a middle school student. He enjoyed tinkering with computers and programming and built his own computer as part of a school project. Carter knew he wanted to follow an education and career path in technology. He earned an associate degree at the State College of Florida in Sarasota before transferring to UNF, where he earned a bachelor's degree in Information Systems.
Carter's internship at Forcura revealed opportunities to share his technical background at a fast-paced company with a culture that thrives on collaboration and innovation. He says it was an invaluable experience that allowed him to begin developing his skills. Carter's advice to other students is to work hard and take advantage of the opportunity for on-the-job training that an internship provides.
"It's important to focus on the core concepts," Carter said. "My internship provided the motivation to explore new ways of doing things, and it was very satisfying to work as part of a team."
With remote learning required during his senior year due to the pandemic, Carter's communication and interaction with industry professionals was limited. He was inspired by the Forcura internship because it offered the chance to network, receive feedback from colleagues and establish mentors. Carter wants to give back to UNF and would like to serve one day as a mentor to technology students.
"My internship was a critical step in my transition from school to my profession," Carter said. "I want to make sure other students are getting the best learning experiences they can get before graduation."
Driven to Nursing--life experiences shape a career
Experiences can shape a career pathway and guide decisions in your life. After working in the insurance industry and as an animal control officer, Brad Nazworth, BSN, RN, was inspired by his time caring for a loved one with a serious illness to explore a career path in nursing.
"As I was caring for my father-in-law, who was critically ill, I discovered I had an aptitude for helping him through that process," Nazworth said. "Taking care of him motvated me to go back to school and pursue a career in nursing."
Nazworth is a critical care nurse in the Medical-Surgical Intensive Care Unit (MSICU) at Baptist Health. The 20-bed unit is accountable for providing care to critical patients that require a higher acuity of care.
There are many ways to enter into a nursing career. Nazworth attended the University of North Florida (UNF) and graduated with his Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN) from the Brooks School of Nursing at UNF. The school offers a wide variety of nursing programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and provides students with clinical experiences prior to graduation.
"I highly recommend UNF's School of Nursing," Nazworth said. "The faculty is extremely supportive and has provided helpful connections in my career."
Nazworth joined Baptist Health in 2014 as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and worked in several different departments within the hospital. He discovered his passion for patient care while working in the ICU.
"I am proud to be an ICU nurse and I would not want to work anywhere else," Nazworth said.
After graduating with his registered nurse (RN) license, Nazworth was hired to work as a critical care nurse in the MSICU. Critical care nurses perform patient assessments, administer treatment and provide support during recovery. They interact with physicians and other departments within the hospital and they educate patients and their families about patient's illness and plan of care.
"While the patient is the priority, their family also becomes an important part of your patient's care," Nazworth said.
The unit has been nationally recognized with awards including the Daisy Award, honoring the teamwork, collaboration and compassionate care nurses provide for their patients and families. Nazworth says working in the ICU is intensely challenging and extremely rewarding.
"Our unit's physicians, nurses and other staff work together as a team to support each other and provide the highest level of care to our patients," Nazworth said. "The ICU provides the opportunity for me to have an impact on a patient's care every day, and that's a big deal to me."
Nazworth is passionate about advancing the nursing profession. He serves on Baptist Health's clinical informatics committee, which is working to combine traditional bedside nursing skills with advanced health care information technology. Nazworth teaches continuing education classes on continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT), commonly used to provide renal support for critically ill patients with acute kidney injury. He also stays connected with UNF, offering guidance and support to students enrolled in the nursing school program.
"Anyone can learn but you need the drive, personality and desire if you want to achieve a career in nursing," Nazworth said.
Amber Gainer finds her passion and purpose in the health care sector
With more than 20 hospitals and medical institutions in Northeast Florida, there are plentiful career opportunities in patient care. Amber Gainer RTR, CT, found her purpose providing patient-centered care as a radiologic technologist at Baptist Health.
"I take pictures all day long," Gainer said. "There is nothing typical about my job. No two days are ever the same. I like that every day provides a new challenge and a new experience."
Radiologic technologists perform X-rays and scans on all parts of a patient's body for a variety of reasons. The images enable physicians to diagnose a disease, an acute condition or an injury. In addition to having the appropriate education in medical techologies, radiologic technologists are licensed and registered.
In 2013, Gainer took part in Tipping the Scale, a nationally recognized mentoring and advocacy program founded by Baptist Health and the Bridge of Northeast Florida. The program pairs Jacksonville high school students with Baptist Health team members who volunteer as mentors. The experience left a lasting impression on Gainer.
"I couldn't see myself doing anything outside of health care," Gainer said. "I was drawn to patient care and the sense of helping others."
Gainer initially considered pursuing a career in veterinary medicine or pediatrics. She began her career working as a certified nursing assistant (CNA). After two years, Gainer wanted to take her career in a different direction.
Finding the right career resulted after Gainer began searching for opportunities and exploring different career pathways that appealed to her interests. She took advantage of shadowing to explore different jobs and discovered her passion.
"I had a job shadowing experience in the X-ray department and I fell in love with it," Gainer said. "I knew it was the career for me."
Gainer attended Florida State College at Jacksonville and Keiser University, where she earned an associate's degree in Radiologic Technology and a bachelor's degree in Imaging Sciences. After graduation, she earned her certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and was eligible to be licensed by the State of Florida.
Gainer returned to Baptist Health in 2019. Radiologic technologists play an important role in patient care. Gainer communicates with patients as well as physicians, nurses, and other hospital personnel. Her job requires adaptability and working with others as a team.
"I enjoy being part of a system that helps people get better," Gainer said. "My goal is to make every patient smile and to make sure I do the best for that patient."
Gainer continues to advance her career with on-the-job training. In addition to her certifications in X-ray and CT, she is expanding her radiology expertise to include MRI modalities. She encourages everyone interested to consider and explore the vast opportunities in health care.
"There are so many career opportunities in hospitals and health care--more than most people realize," Gainer said. "If you find something that interests you, pursue it."
Finding Growth and Opportunity in Healthcare IT
Healthcare offers abundant employment opportunities. Kateita (Kat) Hasanovic, MSN, RN-BC, discovered growth, opportunity, and leadership at Baptist Health by being open to new possibilities in her career pathway.
Hasanovic is the Inpatient Implementation Director on the Epic Project Team at Baptist Health. Under the leadership of Vice President and Chief Medical Information Officer Stacey Johnson, MD, Baptist Health is transitioning to the Epic system to improve health data exchange and access across the hospital.
"The Epic platform will facilitate communication between providers throughout Baptist Health," Hasanovic said. "It improves the quality of patient care by enhancing care coordination and clinical decision-making."
Technology has changed healthcare since Hasanovic arrived at Baptist Health more than 20 years ago after graduating from West Nassau High School. Her first job involved transporting patients around the main hospital.
"At the time, I had no intention of being a nurse," Hasanovic said. "While working in transportation, I could see there were many opportunities at the hospital. I have always been a person who strives to accomplish more."
Hasanovic continued to work at Baptist Health after enrolling in Florida State College of Jacksonville, moving within the hospital to work as a department secretary. Initially, Hasanovic thought she would like to pursue pharmacy as a career pathway. Physician James Joyner, MD., encouraged her to consider nursing.
"Dr. Joyner said I had the personality that should be directly involved with patients," Hasanovic said. "It was a pivotal moment in my life."
Hasanovic earned her associate's degree in nursing at FSCJ and began working as a registered nurse at Baptist Health after passing the state board examination. She worked in labor and delivery for more than 12 years, including as assistant nurse manager. During this time, she was selected for Baptist Health's Emerging Leaders program.
"This leadership development program opened my eyes and changed my mindset," Hasanovic said. "If your goal is to move up in an organization, you have to continue your education so that you have the knowledge to contribute to the conversation."
With support from Baptist Health's tuition reimbursement program, Hasanovic attended Jacksonville University and earned a bachelor's degree and master's degree focused on Nursing Administration. Doors opened to more opportunities. A colleague approached Hasanovic to consider a new position in Clinical Informatics, helping to drive the organization's application of techniques. Hasanovic spent nearly 10 years in clinical informatics at Baptist Health, first as a specalist before a promotion to manager and then system director.
"It's important to have a healthcare professional directing and leading IT clinical initiatives," Hasanovic said. "Clinical informatics specialists serve as a liaison between information technology and the healthcare team, with the goal of improving the care provided to patients by making sure clinicians have the tools they need."
Hasanovic is passionate about her career, and she encourages others to consider the tremendous opportunties in healthcare.
"Healthcare is more than doctors and nurses," Hasanovic said. "The hospital is a city of opportunity with a need for a wide range of professionals and workers."
An Inextinguishable Flame
For many, their experience with firefighters begins and ends with an elementary school field trip. For some, it is a viable career pathway and a passion that burns as bright as the very flames they extinguish.
For Sammie Fendig, Firefighter for the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department (JFRD), firefighting offers the opportunity to execute learned skills and satisfy a driven, adrenaline-junkie nature. "It's unlike anything else," she says.
Sammie grew up in Fernandina Beach and obtained a much-loved summer job as a lifeguard for ocean rescue at age 17. At age 18, she took a First Responder class, incentivized by the pay raise that accompanied successful completion. "I fell in love with it immediately, I still remember my first rescue," says Sammie. Clearly, this summer job influenced her future career choice. "I've learned that many lifeguards joined the fire service. It's a natural segue. It also pays better than other entry-level jobs."
Despite her initial positive reaction to an occupation involving risk, physical fitness, and saving lives, she enrolled in school as an art major at Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) where she studied photography and graphic design while holding various food service jobs. Sammie enjoyed art, but she wanted something different.
After earning her Associates degree, Sammie bought a one-way ticket to Costa Rica, where she spent three months immersing herself in an entirely new culture. This experience allowed her to consider next steps. "I needed this time to grow and gain more confidence."
Upon returning home, she enrolled in and completed FSCJ's Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Paramedic programs, which led directly to Fire School at First Coast Technical College in St. Augustine.
While Sammie knew firefighting was a perfect fit, others may want to first explore this potential career pathway. She encourages a ride-a-long and says, "EMT is a semester long. Even if you don't choose this pathway, it's worth your time to learn these skills, particularly CPR." She's seen others get into paramedic programs and then pursue nursing or medical school, for example. So, this training can be a springboard to healthcare occupations.
Ultimately, Sammie says of her career choice, "It's never entered my mind that I couldn't do it. I just want to be the hardest working person in the room."
Mandarin High School's Medical Academy
Generations of Success at DCPS
Mrs. Collins and Mrs. Dewberry, the instructors of Mandarin High School's Medical Academy, bring an industry focus to their classrooms. Since the program begain in 2008, students have seen how their classroom instruction relates to the real world.
In a classroom equipped with four hospital beds, technology, and the requisite mannequins, Collins and Dewberry bring synergy and realism to their health science progam, a co-hort model extending from freshman through senior year.
Students begin the Academy as freshman and continue with the same co-hort through their senior year. As such, the group feels more like an extended family. This "family" is supported by regional businesses and education partners such as Baptist South, River Garden, St. Vincent's, Keiser University, Florida State College at Jacksonville, University of North Florida, and Jersey College. They have impacted the program through their work on the Academy Advisory Board, providing clinical sites, and donating equipment.
As Mrs. Collins is a Registered Nurse and Mrs. Dewberry is an Emergency Medical Technician, they are constantly supplementing their instruction with real world experience from industry. RN's and EMT's approach their work very differently, as the scneario determines the response. Thus, students get a perspective from each teacher on how to respond. For example, there is a different response to 12 patients needing continual care versus one patient needing emergency care.
As freshman, students learn health science foundations, communications, and teamwork. Students are put into working groups selected by their teachers. "Students don't get to pick their colleagues or their patients in the real world," said Collins.
Each year builds on the prior year. Freshmen and sophomores will learn both employability and practical skills such as communication, First Aid/CPR, sterile technique, and vital signs. As juniors, students take Anatomy and Physiology with additional focus on diseases, treatments, prognoses, and careers. Senior courses prepare students for their certification tests.
Part of this preparation includes 16 clinical hours in a medical facility and completing lab hours on campus. When students are at Baptist South, they will be exposed to the emergency Room, Radiology, and Cath Labs. Students have experienced surgery and post-surgery settings. There, they practice the skills learned while shadowing professionals. "When students say, 'I can read these charts,' they have a moment of clarity and accomplishment," according to Dewberry.
Students learn about the multitude of opportunities in biomedicine that exist in Jacksonville. Participating in a virtual classroom with Brooks Rehabilitation allowed students to see how lasers, sensors, and plates monitored an athlete jumping and generated data to best evaluate a knee injury. Students have also visited Medtronic to see their medical equipment produced.
Students leave the program with two certifications: Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) and Electrocardiograph (EKG) Technician. The CMAA is an Allied Health credential which equips students for front office, scheduling, greeting patients, and handling payments. Students must complete 10 live EKGs before they can sit for the exam, allowing them to operate equipment that monitors the heart's electrical activity.
Mandarin students participate in HOSA--Future Health Professionals, an extra-curricular activity aligned to national standards. HOSA teaches leadership through competition and community service. Mandarin HOSA is student run and consistently places in regional and state competitions. Students are now looking to compete globally.
Students succeed in the workforce following graduation. For example, one Mandarin graduate is now a lab assistant at Baptist's downtown campus; several are nurses at Baptist locations. Another former student is mentoring a currently enrolled student. Many are purusing their studies to be nurse practitioners and physical therapists. The value of this program extends beyond high school. Student Mandy Nguyen said, "The Medical Academy has given me the opportunity to gain and expand my knowledge in health care. This will set me up for success towards future education and careers."
Having Vision--Seeing an Amazing Career Path
Florida State College at Jacksonville
According to the FSCJ website, the role of Ophthalmic Technician is to "manage ocular diseases and optical measurements." Technicians help doctors treat eye diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, as well as fit patients for contact lenses and glasses.
Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) offers an Ophthalmic Technician Associate of Science degree, one of only 12 such programs in the nation. This program is accredited by the International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA). Recent high school graduates, career changers, and military trailing spouses have all taken advantage of this educational opportunity.
Eye care is a part of the healthcare industry and is very diversified. For example, 80 ophthalmologists practice in greater Jacksonville. They work in large group practices, institutional practices such as UF and Mayo, and in individual private practices that vary in size. Some practices specialize in a specific subspecialty--such as retina or pediatrics or glaucoma--and some are comprehensive or multi-specilty practices. Ophthalmic Technicians can choose to specialize as well, in accordance with their interest and talent.
Currently, a shortage of Ophthalmic Technicians exists in Jacksonville. Cathy Titus, FSCJ Professor and Interim Program Director of Ophthalmic Technology, said, "Our program boasts a 100 percent job placement rate. Physicians frequently reach out to us, asking when the next group of graduates will be ready to work."
As many ophthalmic skills are manual and require practice to master, the program offers work-based learning opportunities that are integrated into curriculum via clinicials. Students will spend 840 hours in an externship over the course of study. Clinical hours spent outside the classroom increase as the student moves through the program. For example, clinical hours range from 120, 240, and 480 hours as students complete corresponding semesters.
In 2019, the program had a certification exam pass rate of 75 percent with a 100 percent completion and a 100 percent employment rate. If students do not pass the test, they are still hired, learn more skills on the job, and pass their test the next time they sit for the exam. The program can accommodate even more students who are looking for immediate job offers after program completion.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Levenson, the program's Medical Director and owner of Levenson Eye Associates since 1988, "Everyone who graduates gets a job and has the opportunity to make it not just a job but a career." Among the companies who have hired recent graduates are Florida Eye Specialists, Mayo Clinic, and Levenson Eye Associates. Many techs advance to become office managers and clinical researchers, using their training and experience as a springboard.
One aspect of the program that allows students to demonstrate learning and directly impact the community is the partnership with Vision is Priceless, a Jacksonville charitable organization. According to their website, they help "assess, sustain, and improve the visual health of children and adults in Northeast Florida," providing nearly 40,000 free vision screenings and nearly 1,400 eye exams to the underserved of our community. A clinic is set up onsite at FSCJ; students provide care to those who would otherwise be unable to receive it, supervised by volunteer doctors. According to Titus, "Students find great satisfaction in putting their learning to work in service to others." In doing so, students use their skills to add value to their community in a distinctly helpful way.
Students find that graduating from the program meets and exceeds their expectations. Darian Jakubec from the Class of 2019 said, "After becoming a Certified Ophthalmic Technician, my career really lifted off. I have the FSCJ program to thank for providing me exactly what I was looking for, a firm foundation in a long-term career and passion for rewarding responsibilities that offer endless learning opportunities and experiences. Even after graduating, the program still provides me with guidance and chances to volunteer."
To learn more about the Ophthalmic Technician program, check out: https://youtube.com/watch?v=NSbRAV931CE.
From Retail to Healthcare: A Career Pathway in Biomedicine
Sarah Elam, Cytoprep Lab Technician
"This isn't a field for someone who wants instant gratification, " says Sarah Elam, a Cytoprep Lab Technician with Aurora Diagnostics/Bernhardt Laboratories.
Sarah grew up in Fort Smith, Arkansas. At 19, she obtained a position as a medical receptionist for a clinic specializing in cardiology that housed seven cardiologists including two electrophysiologists. This change from working in her family's retail store allowed her to help people in a new way and sparked her interest in clinical medicine.
Sarah obtained EKG and Phlebotomy certifications while continuing to work in Medical Scribing, which helped solidify her ultimate goal of being a physician. By transcribing everything a doctor says and does, she applied what she learned about medical terminology from her receptionist role.
When looking at additional educational pursuits, Sarah was drawn to Keiser University's Jacksonville campus for the Biomedical Science progam. The program outline worked with her schedule. Its accelerated approach provided rigorous but manageable coursework allowing students to focus on one subject at a time in a small classroom environment. Sarah notes, "Biomedicine is an emerging field. Taking courses such as Biology of Cancer and Genetics were interesting and necessary. This degree can lead to pre-med or allow a person to branch off into so many aspects, like research, physician's assistant, and anesthesiology."
After graduating from Keiser Univesrity with a BS in Biomedical Science in 2019, Sarah chose to continue her education at the University of Florida to obtain her Master of Science in Microbiology and Biochemistry. Ultimately, Sarah hopes this degree will give her an edge when applying for and succeeding in medical school. Her ideal choice for medical school is Jacksonvillle's Mayo Clinic. Regarding the discipline involved in pursuing one's edication, Sarah states, "Do not procrastinate. Find a good support group that you can rely on to keep you accountable whether it be a professor, a family member, or friends."
While pursuing her studies, Sarah works a night shift at Aurora Diagnostics/Bernhardt laboratories. Her lab technican role involves preparing and staining slides containing women's health samples for microscopic evaluation. These results allow physicians to diagnose patients. Sarah also maintains quality control of the stains, reagents, and instrumennts used while processing specimens.
Successful lab technicians are self-starters who can prioritize and think critically about steps or processes to follow, according to Sarah. She indicates that a tech needs to be able to think about an entire workflow plan to complete processing of samples, which range from 200-800 daily.
Sarah's career course has evolved over time, as well as her reasons for being so passionate about the field. She says, "Initially, I wanted to learn and help people. That's still true, but it goes deeper than that. Pursuing healthcare has enabled me to experience a vast amount of personal growth that I could not fathom in any other field. I do not see this as a job, but as a lifestyle."
Loveann Burch: Crafting A Second Career in the Biomedical Industry
Loveann Burch, Nova’s Physician’s Assistant (PA) degree program
Loveann Burch entered the U.S. Navy a month after high school graduation and served for 14 years. In 2006, she qualified to advance to the medical personnel team, serving as a Corpsman in Orthopedics. This role is similar to a medical assistant, but with additional responsibilities.
In preparation to transition out of the military, Loveann began exploring educational options. She had taken college coursework throughout her career and wanted to transfer those credits. After careful research, Loveann chose the Biomedical program at Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ), earning a bachelor’s degree in 2018.
The program involves chemistry, anatomy, biology, physics, statistics, organic chemistry, quantitative analysis, scientific writing, critical thinking and communication. Loveann’s hands-on military experience set her up for success, as did the program’s format.
Loveann took hybrid classes, a combination of evening in-class labs and online coursework. As such, she began taking classes prior to fully transitioning out of the military service. This flexibility allowed her to balance family, work, and school commitments. An on-site counselor at the Navy college provided support in navigating both college and military cultures. “They went above and beyond to provide access,” Loveann says.
Loveann didn’t initially intend to utilize the articulation agreement between FSCJ and Nova Southeastern University. However, she decided to take advantage of this unique opportunity and applied for the competitive Nova’s Physician’s Assistant (PA) degree program. Loveann was accepted and will graduate in 2022.
After graduating from Nova, Loveann plans to serve as a Physician’s Assistant in Pediatric Orthopedics. She began orthopedic work in the Navy but also enjoys working with children. She’ll be able to assist babies with club feet and help set broken bones. She says, “Children have such a great bounce-back.” Loveann enjoys the pace of the Emergency Room, rushing in to assist patients with trauma, followed by assisting in the Operating Room. As a PA, she’ll assist throughout the multidimensional process of providing care.
Loveann shares, “Anywhere there’s a physician, you can work as a PA.” She was drawn to the field because her career pathway mirrors that of the military, with its emphasis on work-based learning. PA’s learn by doing. Loveann states that, “Unlike a Nurse Practitioner, a PA can learn a new specialty from a doctor first-hand rather than returning to school for several years. If you need a change of pace, feel burned out or have a lifestyle change, you have options. A doctor will make sure you are completely qualified in that aspect of the medical field. Looking at photos in a book and reading about an experience are very different than encountering a situation with a real person.”
Loveann’s Biomedical training will ensure an interesting career pathway. “It’s a great fit.”
Space Dreams & Stem Cells: Biomedical Advances At Mayo Clinic
Dr. Abba Zubair, MD, PhD is a Clinical Pathologist at Mayo Clinic
Dr. Abba Zubair, MD, PhD is a Clinical Pathologist specializing in Transfusion Medicine and stem cell research at Mayo Clinic. Dr. Zubair grew up in Nigeria, Africa fascinated by the dream of being an astronaut. A student advisor told him that he was smart and could do anything, but to pick something else. After all, Nigeria wasn’t sending rockets into the air.
Events in Dr. Zubair’s young life prompted a shift from becoming an astronaut into an interest in healthcare. He chose to be a doctor and began his studies in England. As a student, Dr. Zubair got a green card through the lottery system and pursued his education in the United States. At the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School, he studied tumor immunology, pathology and laboratory medicine, and transfusion medicine. He worked at Brigham & Women, Dana Farger Cancer Center and Boston Children’s Hospital while at Harvard before moving to Jacksonville.
Despite Dr. Zubair’s numerous research activities, publications, professional memberships and various lectureships and awards, interacting with high school and college students through programs and mentorship is extremely satisfying. “It’s exciting to talk to new generations and encourage them to open their eyes and see that the sky’s the limit.”
Recently, Dr. Zubair’s research has launched into space. Collaborating with the Florida Program Research in Space and the ISS National Laboratory Center for Advancement of Science in Space, he submitted a grant to test a basic research idea and translate it to patient care. The premise: studying cell behavior in space may lead to new therapies to treat stroke patients, specifically those with hemorrhagic stroke. From a research perspective, it takes months to grow cells. So, what is the effect of zero gravity on the growth of stem cells? Would cells grow faster and be safe to use for human application?
“Space research is totally different,” Dr. Zubair indicated. “Simple activities must be re-engineered and tested for effectiveness. One rocket carries everything, from food to military hardware and research materials—you are competing with others who want on the shuttle at Kennedy Space Center. It may take months to years to get your project up to the top of the queue. You use astronauts to conduct your research project, some of whom need training.”
In space, cells are grown, fed, and harvested. Photos of cells were taken and shared in real time to study behavior. Dr. Zubair’s team has an exact replica of the space study in the Mayo lab as a control. Staff go to the lab at night to feed the cells at the same time to mirror the feeding times of cells in space. Many space samples have returned via a capsule that lands by balloon into the ocean. It’s retrieved out of the ocean and Fed Ex’ed to the Mayo lab. Dr. Zubair stated that the real action starts when sample comes back and is compared to lab grown cells.
Dr. Zubair’s team is organizing space data and synthesizing findings. Of the more than fifteen thousand genes analyzed, up to seven thousand were impacted by being in space. The evaluations showed short-term exposure to radiation in space did not cause significant cell damage or cause them to become cancerous. Out of the three types of cells studied, one type showed enhanced immune suppressive property which suggests it can be used in preventing rejection of organs and controlling inflammation. Dr. Zubair said he and his team will need to re-test this study in space before drawing conclusions. This process will take time—years in fact—before patients can be treated with space-grown cells.
Dr. Zubair has lived in Jacksonville for 17 years. He emphasized that Florida is an ideal location to pursue a biomedical career involving space research, due to Mayo’s proximity to the Kennedy Center. Of pursuing the biomedical field, he stresses, “Never waste time. Get all of the credentials you need quickly. Education is like a marathon. There will be a struggle, so you can’t focus on the immediate. There is joy in the journey. Go where the opportunities are that excite you. It may look painful going to class and taking exams, but when you achieve your goal, you’ll appreciate it.”
Wanting a life that looked more like an action movie, with frequent plot twists and turns, Dr. Zubair has found joy in biomedicine. He proves that realizing your dreams may not take the shape you initially intended. Dr. Zubair hasn’t set foot in space, but his work has travelled there and back.
An Unintended but Meaningful Career Pathway: the Niche World of Lung Perfusion
Brandi Zofkie, General Manager of Jacksonville’s Lung Bioengineering facility in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic Transplant Center
“No one grows up wanting to be an Ex Vivo Lung Perfusion Specialist (EVLP),” says Brandi Zofkie, General Manager of Jacksonville’s Lung Bioengineering facility in collaboration with Mayo Clinic Transplant Center. Brandi holds a BS in Biochemistry as well as MS degrees in both Public Health and Human Donation Science. Brandi initially used these skills and education in a non-profit space, serving in a procurement transplant coordinator role before making the transition into this aspect of biomedicine.Brandi has been on staff with United Therapeutics for seven years in an exciting career that saw her working in the Midatlantic, receiving training in Canada, and “transplanting” to Jacksonville.
Brandi’s current role can be traced to a scholarly project for a master’s program, which led her to make contact with a company to request someinformation and leading to a ventilator, pig lungs, and a dome to support her presentation. After beginning her career in the non-profit world, the relationships formed during the class project resulted in a hiring offer with United Therapeutics and six months of training at Toronto General Hospital, which created this niche within the biomedical space. United Therapeutics has the first EVLP service in the United States, including Brandi.
Organ procurement was Brandi’s focus, so this career transition to biomedicine initially felt risky. She wanted to ensure that she could still derive satisfaction from knowing that “every day, I did something to save someone’s life.” Brandi was used to working closely with families and transplant recipients seeking a variety of organs, so she was concerned the role would feel impersonal. However, fulfillment is still part of the work. To date, Brandi has helped ensure that well over 100 patients have received lifesaving lungtransplants. She generates impactful results, but success is realized differently.
To best understand Brandi and her work with the Mayo Clinic via United Therapeutics, it helps to understand the context of this very innovative company for which she works, United Therapeutics. Dr. Martine Rothblatt, founder and CEO of United Therapeutics alsofounded what is now SiriusXM Satellite Radio. An attorney by trade, Dr. Rothblatt became an entrepreneur and later pursued her PhD in medical ethics after her daughter was diagnosed with Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH). This patient population was too small to develop and sell medicines to assist those with PAH, so pharmaceutical companies were not willing to develop a drug that was just sitting on a shelf. Dr. Rothblatt started United Therapeutics to develop that drug now with multiple routes of administration (i.e., pump, inhalation, oral medication) to help patients like her daughter live. The next step after developing these drugs was to help influence more patients being able to receive lung transplants.
Less than 20 percent of all donor lungs are suitable for transplant. The EVLP process allows specialists like Brandi to support, maintain, and monitor donor lungs, as well as generate and analyze data to provide more information for decision making by the lung transplant program. The lungs are perfused with a blood-free solution and ventilated for several hours. A colleague of Brandi’s explains that the option to use EVLP can “help turn a ‘no’ into a ‘maybe’” regarding the availability for transplant of a donor lung, since these lungs would otherwise not have been used. Even lungs that fail may do so on the EVLP system rather than in the patient.
Donated lungs can be well-traveled before being transplanted. For example, a lung could be ex-planted from a donor on the west coast, sent to a Lung Bioengineering facility in Silver Spring, Maryland for evaluation, and then sent on to be transplanted at a center in other states including Illinois, Tennessee, or Florida’s Mayo Clinic. The company’s research studies are designed to show that lungs can come from anywhere in the continental United States.
Not only does Brandi need to understand the physical aspects of maintaining the lung, interpreting data, and providing information for physicians to make critical decisions about the use of the lung, but her role also involves non-medical, yet critical work creating inventory systems, writing standard operating procedures, and creating the structure for the department in their brand new facility, expected to be live for transplants this fall. She also makes connections and develops relationships with the other providers that make operating a biomedical facility possible.
Brandi is excited for the potential of the industry, particularly as it relates to technology as a therapy platform to improve lungs that are currently unusable. Biomedical advances through future research could result in the rehabilitation and modification of lungs in thefuture, essentially making EVLP’s the “fixer uppers” of lungs to “flip” them to new owners. Brandi says, “We’re in startup mode. You wear a lot of hats and have to strike a balance to be successful. It’s really just about hard work and being dedicated to your mission. But, passion must be behind it. Don’t get into it without passion for it.” Good news for students in Northeast Florida? This field is growing rapidly, so the need for internships and a skilled workforce will only increase.
Pivoting Toward Your Passion
Stacey Prince, Senior Specialist for Release of Information at Mayo Clinic
Stacey Prince loves being part of the healthcare field. Her role as a Senior Specialist for Release of Information at Mayo Clinic allows her to work at the intersection of laws and technology as they apply to the medical field. She sees opportunities for continued growth in an evolving industry that offers her some patient interaction and a lot of opportunity to flex her critical thinking muscles.
Stacey graduated from St. Johns River State College nearly two years ago with her AS degree in Health Information Technology. After a career in the finance industry, she stepped away to care for her children. When considering re-entry into the workforce Stacey carefully evaluated her options. She monitored employment trends and looked at the political landscape. The Affordable Care Act helped prompt her to pursue additional post-secondary education. She states, “I saw (healthcare) as a growing industry with a lot of opportunity for me to foster a brand new career.”
In her role at Mayo, she uses transferable skills from finance and applies them to the non-clinical side of healthcare. However, she cites the training received at SJR State as fundamental to her everyday work. Understanding and retaining legal vocabulary and standards learned there has been critical, as her work involves adherence to public health-related guidelines like HIPAA.
Job satisfaction is clear as Stacey describes what she likes about the industry. In under two years at Mayo, her current role has evolved. She has been part of two new system roll-outs. She likes the urgency of finding resolutions for issues that impact patients in a dynamic environment. She enjoys applying her knowledge to make decisions. She sees the potential for continued change as the ways in which information is shared changes. Stacey realizes that new jobs will emerge because of changing technology, and “we (the industry) will be able to shape that change.”
Stacey has been part of the pivotal and efficient mobilization of resources that has accompanied COVID-19. Her role has increased in depth, which will help her be even more valuable. When asked how she would encourage someone when considering a role on the business side of healthcare, Stacey said taking an entry-level class in Allied Health confirmed her passion. It reinforced her interest that she was headed in the right direction. She also believes that the business side of healthcare is “broader than you think. It’s bigger than medical coding. It allows you to land inside the scope of medical records but no two situations are the same.”
Now that she is an SJR State alum, Stacey also enjoys having great mentorships from professors and administrators she met at the college. They continue providing guidance and direction and serve as a support system as her role grows and changes. She’s also involved in professional organizations, as she finds it helpful to surround herself with other professionals who are committed to the work.
Stacey is looking forward to a long and fulfilling career in health information management. “I picked an industry that I had not ever considered before. It turns out that this is the field that ignites my passion and imagination. It’s a reminder that your passion can find you in unexpected places, and I am gratefulthat mine has found me.”
The business side of health needs professionals with a passion like Stacey’s. If you seek a career pathway that will offer constant growth and change, consider Health Information Technology.
Kensley, Ocupational Therapist
Brooks Rehabilitation at Memorial Hospital
Kensley Hoover is a clinician in the field of Occupational Therapy working for Brooks Rehabilitation at Memorial Hospital. She is a native of Waycross, Georgia, but now calls Jacksonville home. While in high school and college, Kensley didn’t have a plan or a set career pathway in mind. Her parents told her she needed to “go to college no matter what,” but she wasn’t certain that she would do with her degree.
Once Kensley earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Georgia Southern University, she got involved with the Miracle League and Special Olympics, which provides abled children and adolescents with physical and intellectual disabilities the option to engage in sports where she worked with children specifically with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome. This experience prompted interest in occupational therapy (OT).
When Kensley began exploring this option, she was told she would need to wait a full year to apply for OT schooling. She wanted to act sooner, so she explored the Associate of Science in Occupational Therapy program at Keiser University in Jacksonville. Within one week, she was accepted and enrolled. Kensley commuted daily for 16 months from Waycross to Jacksonville to attend classes at Keiser. “I look at back at that and wonder how I did it,” she said.
While at Keiser, Kensley took advantage of the work study program. She was paid to work in the college’s Nursing Department, where she scanned, uploaded, and organized documents for the director and instructors as well as assist with various clerical duties. This opportunity provided gas money Kensley needed for her daily commute. However, it also opened doors that have profoundly impacted her career.
After graduating from Keiser University, Kensley took a position at a small hospital in Georgia which provided her valuable work experience. Kensley was soon to be married and with her husbands job, it would result in a move to Jacksonville. Luckily, Kensley continued to keep in touch with the former nursing director at Keiser University; they conversed about various job opportunities that lead to Kensley applying for a per diem position with Brooks rehab at Memorial Hospital with the nursing director providing a letter of recommendation. Ultimately, Kensley interviewed and was offered the job as a float per diem therapist between Brooks Rehab Hospital and Memorial Hospital. This required her to leave behind a full-time job, all while planning a wedding. After a year of commitment and training, Kensley was officially hired as a full time occupational therapy assistant at Brooks Rehab at Memorial Hospital. “It was a big leap of faith, but it was definitely worth it!”
Kensley has been actively working at Memorial for two years with her focus in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU), Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and Trauma ICU. She states, “I love being there for people even on their worst days. I’m there for a lot of firsts. First steps, first time to bathroom, toileting, dressing, grooming. After a big event like stroke, open-heart surgery or car accident it’s a major accomplishment. It is very rewarding knowing that I helped them achieve their goals.” Alongside patient care, Kensley is active with multi-disciplinary rounding in the ICU, conducts new hire training, participate with education fairs training for nurses, and transfer training.
Admittedly, working as an OT in the ICU can be daunting, as individuals enter the hospital with severe, medically complex illnesses and injuries. Kensley stresses the importance of being that familiar source of encouragement, compassion, and education for patients as well as their families. It helps to explain the entire process of treatment, as some treatment may look like they cause pain but are meant to increase optimal mobility, stimulate cognition, or decrease ICU delirium. “In the ICU, I help patients the best way I know how. It’s about progressing the patient to their maximum capability.” Sometimes, patients experience coma or death, so Kensley works through those emotions. “It’s hard not to bring it home.”
Kensley sites her Grandmother as someone whose legacy impacted her career pathway. During WWII, while her husband was in the Navy, her trailblazing grandmother opened her home to anyone who needed shelter and a hot meal. This hospitality morphed into starting a soup kitchen, which then evolved into a nursing home. Eventually, Kensley’s entrepreneurial-minded grandmother operated six nursing homes. “She was an amazing woman and she cared a lot about others. Mom went into finance and took on the business side of all the nursing homes. Eventually, she and my dad ran the homes.” This influence continues in Kensley’s work. Outside of her professional scope, she tries to help others who are vulnerable. She carries packs of water, protein bars, and hygiene products in her car to be able to help anyone at any time.
Kensley’s advice to anyone thinking about going into occupational therapy? “Volunteer, request to job shadow an OT for a day, and make connections to explore the field.” She also notes “Don’t be surprised when your employer states you’ll work a few holidays. People don’t think about therapy being needed on a holiday. People can decline rapidly and need the continued mobilization in a hospital setting.” Kensley also liked to add that there are so many settings in which a therapist can work. “You go into it thinking you’ll work in an outpatient facility or a school. You may not consider doing therapy in a hospital working with a dementia patient or doing therapy for a patient in hospice. OT is needed in all settings and play important roles with physical and mental recovery.“
Growth through Synergy: Partnerships
Matthew Steinmetz, Business Development Manager at Ascension St. Vincent’s
Ascension St. Vincent’s, a Catholic healthcare ministry with a mission to “go where the need is greatest and care for the most vulnerable” is one of Northeast Florida’s largest healthcare orga- nizations. Matthew Steinmetz, Business Development Manag-er at Ascension St. Vincent’s, enjoys the mission-driven community impact of the health system. Matthew’s roles have allowed him to assist in developing relationships that further the reach of the organization, allowing it increased opportunities to provide quality, compassionate care throughout Northeast Florida.
Matthew’s career pathway was intentional; he approached his education from a strategic long-term perspective. At Florida State University, Matthew studied Interdisciplinary Social Sciences and earned a Bachelor’s degree. He was passionate and interested in the curriculum. However, he chose this course of study as a way to continue pursuit of his education. Matthew selected the University of North Florida (UNF) for his master’s degree because, “It’s a competitive school and the dual master’s MBA and Health Administration program allowed me to complete in three years.”
While at UNF, he had the opportunity for an internship with some of the administrators at Ascension St. Vincent’s, many of whom had financial backgrounds. Matthew’s approach to finance work within the healthcareindustry was very intentional, as this background can elevate one’s career. He said, “It’s common that the next person to take the CEO role is the CFO, as they have served in an operational role.” While interning, a position opened at Ascension St. Vincent’s as a Financial Analyst. Matthew took the role and was involved in the continued development of Ascension St. Vincent’s Clay County, a 134-bed hospital which opened in 2013 and has since completed two additional facility expansions.
Matthew has taken on the role of Business Development Manager, allowing him to facilitate new and maintain strong business partnerships. “It’s about the relationships more than anything. It’s the heartwarming part of the organization. Relationships allow us to improve the quality of care rather than us working separately. These partnerships allow us to ensure that best care that can possibly be provided will be provided.”
Recently, Matthew was part of creating a new partnership between two organizations and Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast, the regional health system that includes Ascension St. Vincent’s, Ascension Sacred Heart based in Pensacola, and Ascension Providence in Mobile, Alabama that will facilitate increased services for individuals needing musculoskeletal care, particularly orthopedics. Each entity contributes resources resulting in synergy that benefits each organization and its patients. As Ascension St. Vincent’s continues to expand its footprint, it will “continue to consistently improve quality, communication, and all aspects of care,” according to Matthew.
When asked what he enjoys about his role within the business side of Healthcare, Matthew states, “Every day’s a different day. I chose this industry because healthcare is constantly evolving. Also, it seemed more recession-proof than other careers.” Matthew notes that Ascension St. Vincent’s made a point to do everything possible to assist its staff and protect their pay when the COVID-19 pandemic began. “I’m really proud to work for a company that made this kind of commitment.”
Matthew realizes the important role education has played in his career pathway and encourages others to seek out post-secondary opportunities. “Education is really important in healthcare. Many of my col- leagues are returning to school for master’s degrees to position themselves for what could be next.” He encourages individuals to take advantage of company-sponsored training programs and tuition reimbursement, as it can serve as a fantastic career laddering opportunity. “Plan for the long-term. Know your goals. Don’t worry about titles and money. People chase titles and money. Be intentional about your career.”
Perserverance Results In a Successful Patient Care Career
Almira - Wolfson’s Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
Six years ago, Almira and her two children moved to Jacksonville from Philadelphia to start fresh. Her son and daughter both struggle with health issues, so Almira knew she wanted to begin a career in the medical field. While up north, she earned a patient tech credential. However, she found herself wanting to move beyond just an entry-level position.
Almira utilized one of Jacksonville’s community-based organizations by joining BEAM’s Single Parent Program (SPP). With their help, Almira found a patient scheduler job at a local hospital. Almira also utilized another resource via the ASTEP program through Goodwill Industries of North Florida.
According to Goodwilljax.org, the “A-STEP program aims to provide working adults in North Florida access to higher education in order to elevate earning potentials and job security.” Almira applied to ASTEP and began taking classes at Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) in mid-2015.
A year later, Almira’s position was outsourced. She persevered, landing a job working for a local healthcare system at the registration desk. For 2 years, Almira plugged away at completing pre-requisite classes. In 2017, she was accepted into the FSCJ respiratory therapy program.
Almira graduated in May of 2019 with an Associate in Science in Respiratory Care, despite issues that could have caused her to quit. She overcame health issues and severe test anxiety. She successfully passed 2 state exams in late summer 2019. Almira was immediately offered a position with Wolfson’s Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as a Respiratory Therapist. She loves working with children and giving individual care.
Almira says this about her profession in the patient side of healthcare: “I am so blessed to have been selected as a RTA on the NICU floor at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. I am grateful to be a part of an amazing medical team dedicated to helping the sickest (and youngest) patients with chronic respiratory problems increase their survival rate and improve quality of life through Respiratory Therapy. It is my passion. It is my heart. It is my lifelong dream and I couldn’t be happier.”
As a result of her persistence and work ethic, Almira closed on her very first home in the Arlington area in January 2020. Almira is one of many single mothers in the ASTEP program. She sets an example for how hard work and educational achievement in a growing career pathway leads to long-term success.
Member Care Specialist Role
A Deep Dive Into One Of GuideWell's Opportunities
You may ask yourself if this role is too good to be true: working 9 months on and three months off all while receiving full benefits, paid time off, and incentive bonuses? A job where you can self-select to go full time, or remain on the schedule above? A job where you can pursue educational opportunities on the “off” time while still having access to a variety of amenities such as golf and basketball to stay healthy as well as continued networking with other colleagues?
This role exists and is in demand at GuideWell.
Member Care Specialist is a key role in meeting the mission of “helping people and communities achieve better health.” Each day, the Member Care Specialist handles between 20 to 40 consecutive calls of potential, new and existing customers which include individual members, group members, business decision makers and agents. Collectively, they receive 10 thousand calls on a slow day and 30 thousand calls on a busy day. Each call taken helps meet the hospital’s mission.
Member Care Specialists have one of the most critical roles in that they interface with the public on the company’s behalf. They’re helping to navigate a complicated system and ensure that members understand how to use their benefits. They also resolve inquiries and process transactions.
When the job was initially created, previous call center experience was required. However, the HR team soon realized they needed individuals with a collaborative, customer service background which could include retail or volunteering. George Cross, Sr. Director, Member Service Center indicated, “These roles turn into professional translators. You are learning another language of medical and insurance terminology. For example, co-pays versus deductibles. What is the difference between oncology and hematology? What is primary care? What constitutes a specialty drug? Your job is to listen to the situation and translate it into the customer’s situation. How good are you at this translation process?” Good customer service involves listening skills and being able to articulate ideas that may seem intimidating to members.
Being able to respond to member calls involves not only a thorough understanding of their plan’s features and benefits, but ultimately involves truly caring about each unique situation. Cross recognizes the importance of “a heart for service. I can teach you the technical knowledge, but I can’t teach you to care. If you like helping people and solving problems, this can be a long-term career path.”
A genuine interest in helping people will allow Member Care Specialists to succeed, particularly when they learn to apply empathy and listening skills to various situations. For example, learning to ask questions is essential. Cross said, “You can’t assume anything. You need to know the entire context of the situation. Someone could be calling in to get a new ID card. You don’t know if they just lost it or are taking their child to the hospital and are afraid they’ll be denied care. It’s important to ask good questions to lead people to answers.”
This position can serve as a launching pad for additional opportunities within the organization as well. Many examples exist throughout the organization of individuals who began on the phones and were promoted to other positions after several years. Ultimately, the Member Care Specialist role affords individuals to develop critical skills that impact members as well as their professional colleagues while truly helping others.
"Never waste time. Get all of the credentials you need quickly. It may look painful going to class and taking exams, but when you achieve your goal, you'll appreciate it."
Dr. Abba Zubair, MD, PhD
Clinical Pathologist, Mayo Clinic
“It is my passion. It is my heart. It is my lifelong dream and I couldn’t be happier.”
Respiratory Therapist, Wolfson’s Hospital
"Our Program boasts a 100 percent job placement rate. Physicians frequently reach out to us, asking when the next group of graduates will be ready to work."
FSCJ Professor & Interim Program Director of Ophthalmic Technology
“If you like helping people and solving problems, this can be a long-lasting career path.”
Senior Director, Member Service Center, Guidewell
"We're in startup mode. You wear a lot of hats and have to strike a balance to be successful. It's really just about hard work and being dedicated to your mission."
Ex Vivio Lung Perfusion Specialist, General Manager Mayo Clinic Transplant Center
“We seek to promote an entrepreneurial community and spirit of invention.”
Tushar Patel, M.B., Ch.B
Dean of Research, Mayo Clinic
"I have the opportunity to be part of the solution, which is very satisfying."
Associate Software Engineer, Forcura
"Occupational Therapy is needed in all settings and play important roles with physical and mental recovery.“
Occupational Therapy Clinician, Brooks Rehabilitation
“I was working as a CNA, caring for a patient who suddenly began having difficulty breathing, exhibiting signs of respiratory distress. I immediately alerted the nurse, who called the Respiratory Therapist for help. I watched the RT care for, treat, and stabilize this patient. Seeing this RT work her magic like that is what sparked my interest in the field.“
Respiratory Therapy Student, SJR State
"We're always thinking about how do we push the practice of medicine forward."