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By Robert Waldner
Photo by Kate Gardiner
The University Of St. Augustine For Health Sciences proves that growth and success often start small.
The area’s only graduate institution in healthcare education traces its roots back to 1979, when Dr. Stanley Paris opened The Institute of Physical Therapy in Atlanta, Georgia.
“After moving to St. Augustine in the mid-1980s, Dr. Paris monitored the local demand for physical therapy and began dreaming up a different approach to educating healthcare practitioners,” states Dr. Wanda Nitsch, the current President of USAHS. As a result, Dr. Paris opened the first campus on Malaga Street in 1984. “We had very humble beginnings,” Dr. Nitsch remembers. The physical therapy program was the first to be introduced and expanded. Eventually, USAHS’s success required both spacial and program-offering expansion. In 1997, USAHS rolled out its occupational therapy program and later moved to its current, larger location at 1 University Boulevard, behind Flagler Hospital. Now, the first campus of USAHS is one of four in the country, and boasts the largest student body and number of staff among them all. Corporate headquarters is based in San Marcos, California.
Dr. Nitsch herself began as an instructor at the St. Augustine campus in 1997 and grew into her current role, taking over as University President in 2011. She states, “We use innovative models to teach the collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to healthcare.” Rachael Lighty, Executive Director of External Relations, Communications, and Media Relations elaborates. “All of our faculty members are leaders in the healthcare industry and even incorporate our students in their research to give them valuable first-hand experience before graduation.”
Locally, USAHS manages a wellness center that is open to the public. They also host aquatic therapy sessions and student functions that benefit local organizations such as the Council on Aging and Habitat For Humanity, and an annual health fair to raise money for The Wildflower Clinic.
Flagler Hospital St. Augustine • 400 Health Park Boulevard • (904) 819-5155