HCA Healthcare announced Thursday it plans to help a Christian university also headquartered in Nashville launch a medical school.
The for-profit hospital chain's Nashville subsidiary, TriStar Health, will provide the clinical elements supporting Belmont University's application for Liaison Committee on Medical Education accreditation for its proposed College of Medicine. It would be the country's 156th LCME-accredited medical school.
Belmont President Bob Fisher said in a statement that he has no doubt the college will produce the next generation of healthcare leaders.
"A college of medicine is the natural next step in Belmont's healthcare offerings," he said. "It's not an easy step, but it's characteristic of Belmont University to take on challenges and do big things, and do those things well."
HCA and Belmont said the college would be well positioned to help fill the physician shortage expected between now and 2033. They hope to welcome an inaugural class of 150 students, with an expected enrollment of up to 600 students when the college reaches full capacity.
As part of the deal, TriStar has committed to providing third-year medical students core clinical clerkships and fourth year medical students clinical elective rotations. HCA said it will provide a pathway to graduate medical education opportunities for Belmont graduates and will support existing medical staff interested in faculty positions at the new medical school.
HCA has surprised analysts with its financial resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, and recently announced it will return all $1.6 billion of its federal relief grants, money that is not required to be repaid. HCA's profit jumped 38% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2020 to $1.1 billion, even when procedures were largely shut down on the front end because of the pandemic.
Health systems nationwide have already felt the effects of nursing and other staff shortages through higher labor costs. HCA has taken a proactive approach by investing in nursing schools. The company owns a majority stake in Galen College of Nursing, a private nursing school with five campuses. HCA also owns the Mercy School of Nursing in Miami and the Research College of Nursing in Kansas City, Mo.
HCA's support for Belmont's medical school follows a similar logic.
"According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the shortage of U.S. physicians continues to worsen, and we share Belmont University's commitment to address this critical need," HCA CEO Sam Hazen said in a statement.
Belmont said it will immediately launch a nationwide search for the college's inaugural dean. The dean will build a team, pursue candidacy status with the LCME and set timelines for potential openings. The university said it also has identified a "prominent site" for a building to house the college, and preliminary plans call for a roughly 150,000 square foot facility.
Belmont, the planned site of the final presidential debate on Oct. 22, has more than 8,200 students from every state and 28 countries. It has more than 100 areas of undergraduate study, 27 master's programs and five doctoral degrees.
HCA and Belmont said their partnership started with HCA's co-founder, Jack Massey, a staunch Belmont supporter. Since then, the organizations have partnered to address Tennessee's nursing shortage, and HCA is serving as Belmont's local health advisor for the Oct. 22 presidential debate.
HCA's affiliates currently include 58 teaching hospitals with more than 4,300 residents and fellows across 272 programs.