FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - A brand new health sciences building in the Pee Dee opened its doors Thursday morning.
Third- and fourth-year medical students from the University of South Carolina, as well as master level students from Francis Marion University, will soon fill the building for their practice.
The need for medical jobs in the Pee Dee is something FMU is hoping to fix with the new Carter Center for Health Sciences facility, which is located in the heart of downtown Florence.
The $15.5 million building is debt free thanks to generation donations. The city of Florence gave $3 million, South Carolina gave $5 million, and the Dr.'s Bruce and Lee Foundation donated $7.5 million to open the doors.
The long-awaited Carter Center for Health Sciences is named in honor of Francis Marion University's president, Dr. Luther Carter, the man who has wanted to see the master's level health sciences program at FMU expand the past 10 years.
"We purposely built this to be a facility that combines nurse practitioners, PA students, medical students and also clinical psychology students," said Paul DeMarco, the new medical director for FMU's physician assistant program. "If you've been downtown, you've seen HopeHealth has built a giant two-story facility and they are already adding on. That just shows you there's a great need for primary care in this community."
Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela helped cut the ribbon during the ceremony and he said this project was a long time coming. The city of Florence made a difficult, but practical, decision to demolish the 100-year-old Trust Building two years ago that sat empty right on the same corner.
"It was in a terrible state of deterioration, the roof was not functioning at all and filled with water, and, frankly, a blight on downtown," Wukela said.
The city then handed it over to FMU and Wukela said it is a gem at the corner or Irby and Evans streets that everyone hopes will reach the entire Pee Dee and beyond.
"It's entirely appropriate for them to learn together, because of course they need to work together. I think that's been the move in the curricula, to try to educate doctors, physicians assistants and nurses altogether."
The goal is to have the students in their next year be out in the community working in the hospitals and working with physicians in their actual practice.
"You're going to see a lot more white coats downtown," DeMarco said.
The FMU spokesperson said the physician assistant program reached its cap at 32 students and there were more than 1,500 applicants. There are around 50 students enrolled in the nurse practitioner program. There are 15 nurse educators and 25 USC medical students.
The first day of class for all of the students will be Aug. 23.