Sight Lines

With construction set to begin this year, the Wichita Biomedical Campus is primed to grow not only the scope of interprofessional health sciences education, but the health of the Kansas economy. The $300-million, Kansas legislature-backed initiative by Wichita State University, WSU Tech and the University of Kansas promises collaborative advancement for students, clinicians and researchers – and a far-sighted vision for Wichita’s urban core.

Right now, as Judy Muiruri, a Wichita State physician assistant (PA) student originally from Kenya, Abelardo “Abe” Jaime, who’s studying surgical technology at WSU Tech, and Courtney Harris, a second-year WSU audiology student who works at the Evelyn Hendren Cassat Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic, take a look at the architectural plans for the biomedical collaborative, it takes some imagination for them to see the new sight lines the project will bring to downtown Wichita – and to their own health science fields of study.

A memorandum of understanding between the city of Wichita, WSU and KU for the development of two sites at 200 S. Broadway and 214 S. Topeka was approved by members of the Wichita City Council on Aug. 1, 2023. Today, there’s a parking lot at the Broadway address, and the Wichita Transit Center occupies the Topeka location. But ground is slated to be broken soon on an L-shaped parcel of land at Broadway and William, and after the transit center relocates to its new digs in Delano in late 2025, the second site will also be developed. The two sites combine for a total 3.6 acres and are adjacent to WSU Tech’s culinary school, NICHE, and the Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine. Projected to be substantially up and operating by fall 2026, the 470,000-square-foot, multi-story building will bring under one roof two WSU College of Health Professions schools (health sciences and nursing), WSU Tech healthcare programs and KU’s Wichita schools of medicine and pharmacy. WSU’s School of Oral Health will be considered later.

The move downtown will centralize health education, collaboration and research from each institution, says WSU President Rick Muma, whose more than 30 years as an educator and administrator include experience as a PA in internal medicine and infectious diseases. “As a PA,” he says, “I trained at one of the largest health sciences centers in the nation, the Texas Medical Center in Houston, where I saw the breakthroughs and innovations that can come out of that type of facility.” KU Chancellor Doug Girod, who, like Muma, is an experienced healthcare practitioner – in his case, a surgeon (an otolaryngologist, to be specific). A practicing physician, as well as chancellor, Girod says, “We’re excited to pursue this health education campus in partnership with WSU. An important part of KU’s mission is to educate healthcare practitioners who go on to serve in Kansas communities. This campus will enhance our ability to do that.”

Using federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars via allocations through the state, the campus will co-locate medical clinics, mental health counseling, simulation learning environments, biomedical laboratories, classrooms and administrative offices that together will anchor the south end of a developing biomedical corridor stretching north to Ascension Via Christi St. Francis. The corridor will include COMCARE of Sedgwick County, the largest of the state’s 27 community mental health centers. In 2022, the county approved funding to design and build a new COMCARE facility. In late 2023, county commissioners approved the purchase of three properties adjacent to the biomedical campus, two lots at 221 and 225 S. Topeka and a two-story building at 235 S. Topeka, the former longtime home of Mid-States Fitness Equipment.

Recognized internationally for research on physical fitness and health, Greg Hand is the WSU College of Health Professions dean who, in 2020, was drawn to Wichita State by its reputation as a university on the move. “For someone like me, for a dean,” he says, “this project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – to be part of what will be a biomedical district that’s going to change the city, change the state. This represents every component of society coming together. It wouldn’t happen otherwise. And it wouldn’t be happening without President Muma. It’s his vision.” Sheree Utash ’99, WSU Tech president and vice president of workforce development at WSU, adds, “You have to have the right leaders in place to move a project like this ahead. We do – and I know Rick has long wanted to do this.”

Born in Wichita and raised in Houston, Muma returned to his hometown to join Wichita State’s health professions faculty in 1994, when he set to helping reshape health professions education at the university, most notably by developing undergraduate degrees for paramedics and health science majors, a master’s degree in PA studies, and by reorganizing the Department of Public Health Sciences to include undergraduate degrees in health management and health science, and a graduate degree in aging studies. And, he says, that’s when he first saw the potential for development of a health sciences collaborative – a smaller version, unique to Wichita, but something akin to Houston’s “medical city.” Three big things sutured his notion into the reality taking shape right now: the COVID-19 pandemic, out of which came the positive of ARPA funding; the 2015 Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth (BREG) report by the Greater Wichita Partnership (GWP), an economic development organization serving Wichita and south-central Kansas; and WSU’s and KU’s own intertwined histories.

The BREG plan identified and assessed seven sectors key to the region’s economic and workforce health: advanced manufacturing and materials, aerospace, agriculture, data services and IT, oil and gas, transportation and logistics – and healthcare. Jeff Fluhr, GWP president, says the biomedical campus – with its initial influx of 3,000 students and 200 faculty/staff to the downtown core – represents a huge growth spurt in that sector: “A project of this magnitude has transformative economic and healthcare benefits not only for Wichita, but the region and state. This is an investment in the future.” It’s an investment, he adds, that in the next seven to 10 years could spur well over $100 million in further development of downtown commercial, residential, retail, hospitality and other projects.

In 2022, WSU’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research released an economic impact study on the Wichita Biomedical Campus. Among its conclusions (which do not include economic gains from construction): the healthcare education collaborative will support $60.9 million in additional consumer spending, with “increased day and night-time traffic adding to the downtown vibrancy.”

The price tag for the biomedical campus would have been $17.5 million if built in 1922, the year Dr. Hazel Branch, who had earned two degrees from KU and a medical degree from Cornell, began teaching prospective doctors as a professor of biology at WSU’s earliest predecessor Fairmount College. Among her contributions were the introduction of an approved premed course and inspiring her students – among them D. Cramer Reed ’37, who went on to become a board-certified urologist and advocate for preventative medicine. Dr. Reed was also an organizing force behind not only WSU’s College of Health Professions, for which he served as first dean, but also Wesley Medical Center’s Health Strategies and KU’s medical school in Wichita, originally located on the top floor of WSU’s Fairmount Towers. “We’ve come full circle,” Muma notes.

While Branch and Reed – even current students Muiruri, Jaime and Harris – couldn’t have foreseen all the details planned for the Wichita Biomedical Campus, they certainly would, and do, appreciate the good sight lines emerging at Broadway and William.

The Wichita State University Physician Associate program is always looking for PAs, doctors, or other advanced level practitioners to serve as preceptors for students during their clinical year. If interested in being a preceptor or even hosting a student for an observation, please contact Julie Slade at 316-978-5682 or email at

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