Groundbreaking ceremony held for UK Health Education Building

By Kristi Willett and Ryan Clark
CHS Contributors

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 27, 2023) — Long ago — nearly 160 years ago, in fact — the University of Kentucky made a promise to help serve the people of the Commonwealth and the world, UK President Eli Capilouto said.

Today, the University and Dr. Capilouto underscored that promise with the ceremonial groundbreaking for the largest academic building in its history. At over 500,000 square feet, the new Health Education Building will house programs in the colleges of MedicinePublic HealthHealth Sciences and Nursing as well as the Center for Interprofessional and Community Health Education. The new facility will become a prominent campus landmark at the intersection of Huguelet and University drives when it opens in 2026.

More than 200 staff, faculty, students, alumni and friends of the University came out for the celebration. 

“As a testament to our collaborative spirit, this one facility will contain programs from four colleges and the Center for Interprofessional and Community Health Education. We will educate students for a new health care future, collaborate through transdisciplinary work and attract and retain the best and brightest to advance Kentucky,” President Capilouto said. “Our goal — our promise — is that when our students complete these programs and join the workforce, they are well-equipped to face today’s complex challenges and help all Kentuckians live longer and healthier lives.”  

This innovative, state-of-the-art Health Education Building will feature technological advancements, modern aesthetics and a spacious environment conducive to learning and serve as a hub for health education. It will provide an exceptional learning setting preparing the next generation of health care leaders, health and rehabilitation practitioners, nurses, physicians, public health professionals, scientists and more.

“Education is the foundation for how we prepare tomorrow’s leaders, and that is what will propel Kentucky into the future,” said Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who was also present at the ceremony. “This investment will eliminate barriers to success, increase opportunities for students and help us achieve our goal of a quality education for every Kentuckian.”

The building will be located across University Drive from University Flats with eight floors on the south wing and 10 floors utilized on the north wing. Currently, 77 percent of the space will be dedicated to academic, shared and collaborative spaces for students and faculty, including 25 percent devoted to classrooms and learning labs and 34 percent for simulation and experiential learning.

The building’s north wing exterior will feature brick and glass, and as the building transitions, the south wing’s expansive glass front allows faculty workspace offices to receive ample natural light. Along University Drive, a signature “basketweave” façade will align with the curved roadway. A glowing glass “lantern” structure anchors the northeast corner.

However, more important than the size and space amenities in the building are the opportunities it will provide for the next generation of health care professionals.

One of the greatest challenges facing the Commonwealth is the current and growing shortage of health care providers, including physicians, nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, athletic trainers, medical laboratory scientists, speech language pathologists, audiologists, public health officials and other health care professionals. These shortages are especially prominent in rural areas. 

Addressing this health care workforce shortage is paramount to the mission of the University of Kentucky, and this facility will give the university an important means in solving this concerning issue.

The new Health Education Building will enable:

  • The College of Medicine to grow its medical education program in Lexington from approximately 138 students per year to 200 students per year giving it an overall enrollment of more than 1,000 medical students, making it one of the largest medical schools in the country.
  • It will also enable the College of Nursing to double enrollment by more than 350 students total per year in its traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Advanced BSN (ABSN) programs in order to address the statewide nursing shortage. 
  • In the College of Health Sciences, enrollment will be increased by 30 percent with more than 460 students across five professional programs including Physical Therapy, Physician Assistant Studies, Speech-Language Pathology, Athletic Training and Medical Laboratory Science, with additional new academic programs forthcoming.
  • The College of Public Health enrollment will increase by more than 30 percent by adding 350 students in its undergraduate and graduate programs.
  • The Center for Interprofessional and Community Health Education, which helps develop an effective, diverse and collaborative health workforce for Kentucky and beyond, will be able to impact 50 percent more students annually who will be prepared to provide quality team-based care as professionals.

Additionally, the conceptual design of the building will promote collaboration among the colleges and emphasize flexible, student-centric spaces.

As part of the vision of the Health Education Building, shared hallways, classrooms, educational labs and spaces will advance the exchange of ideas, knowledge and perspectives, leading to research studies, development of new treatment approaches and implementation of evidence-based practices that improve patient outcomes. For example, medical, health science and nursing students will be able to simulate real-life, patient-based experiences through the standardized patient program.

The $380 million project was authorized by the 2022 Kentucky General Assembly and the construction phase was approved by the UK Board of Trustees in June 2023.

"The College of Health Sciences is preparing the next generation of Physical Therapists, Physician Assistants, Speech-Language Pathologists, Athletic Trainers, Clinical Nutritionists, and Medical Laboratory Scientists, with more disciplines on the near horizon," said Scott Lephart, PhD and Dean of the College of Health Sciences. "These programs are ranked as some of the best in the nation, and the student demand for entry into them far exceeds our ability to educate and train them all to contribute to the healthcare needs of our society.  

"We are only able to accept 20 percent of those students who apply as we are constrained by our current spaces," he continued. "The UK Health Education Building not only is going to be a state-of-the-art facility with digital classrooms, clinical teaching labs and advanced simulation, it will enable the College of Health Sciences to enroll more students, grow our class sizes and train more providers to address these workforce shortages in the Commonwealth and beyond. The faculty, staff and students of the College or Health Sciences are excited to begin this journey with our colleagues from Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health."

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.