CRESTVIEW — Florida's second-largest university is considering opening a medical campus in Okaloosa County's largest city, local officials said.
At the beginning of July, Dr. Pedro Gutierrez of the Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine's new Physician Assistant Program toured Crestview and met with city leaders.
If the project comes to fruition, the school would teach students rotated from FIU's Miami campus and local students seeking a physician assistant degree.
City leaders are excited about the possibility of a second medical school opening in Crestview. The FIU program would join Florida A&M University, which operates a pharmacy school downtown.
Former state senator Dr. Durell Peaden encouraged the school to consider locating in Crestview, Mayor David Cadle said.
"They wanted to get into the Panhandle," Cadle said. "The student body is predominantly Hispanics from the Miami area. They don't get any experience in rural areas. This would be a big deal for our city and the whole region."
Gutierrez, the PA program’s associate dean and founding chair, is aware of the Crestview area’s benefits, having attended Northwest Florida State College and been stationed at Eglin Air Force Base and later, on the medical staff at Hurlburt Field.
Local and rotating FIU students
An expected source of students is local Air Force personnel with medical training who want to be licensed to practice after separating from the military, Peaden said.
The county's "great school system" was also a draw, Peaden said.
The program would most likely begin by bringing students from FIU to rotations at area hospitals before opening the full-fledged physician assistant program in Crestview, Gutierrez said.
School staff would arrive to establish the PA program several months before opening a campus.
Gutierrez will visit Crestview in September and give presentations on the proposed school for city leaders and the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce
"I'm looking forward to going up there," Gutierrez said. "We are very excited."
No decision has been made on a site, but Crestview City Councilman Mickey Rytman said that during Gutierrez's previous visit, the Main Street building housing the Spy Chest shop was under consideration.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.