With decades of shared history, Tri-City and Palomar continue to deepen a collaboration that has benefited thousands of students.

SAN MARCOS — As two of North County’s most venerated institutions, Palomar College and Tri-City Medical Center (TCMC) have collaborated for more than 50 years, since the inception of the college’s nursing program in 1969.

Generations of Palomar nurses-in-training have performed their clinical rotations within the walls of the hospital off Vista Way in Oceanside, and in recent years the Medical Center has also become a steadfast supporter of the Palomar College Foundation. The nonprofit Tri-City Hospital Auxiliary, meanwhile, has donated more than $300,000 in nursing scholarships to Palomar students since 1999.

In 2020, with COVID-19 prompting drastic changes in both healthcare and higher education, the partnership reached new heights with a $10,000 sponsorship by TCMC. And in January 2020, Tri-City’s Chief External Affairs Officer, Aaron Byzak, was appointed to the Foundation’s Board of Directors.

“We are profoundly grateful for the generous support that Tri-City has given Palomar College, our students and our faculty through the years,” said Interim Superintendent/President Dr. Jack Kahn. “And we are excited to see what the future holds for our partnership with Tri-City.”

Palomar College Foundation Executive Director Stacy Rungaitis said building a strong partnership with Tri-City has been a win-win situation: “Their commitment benefits our students on so many levels, including the direct engagement they have with Tri-City medical professionals,” she said.

As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the Foundation is dedicated to ensuring equal access to success for all Palomar College students by inspiring individual, business and foundation philanthropic support that helps remove financial barriers and provides essential educational resources.

During its recent Giving Tuesday fund-raising effort, the Foundation brought in $35,000 in donations from the community to benefit Palomar students in need.

Among the many employees of Tri-City Medical Center (TCMC) who attended Palomar College, Byzak recalls his time in the Emergency Medical Education program with fondness.

After graduating high school in the 1990s, Byzak was working as a lifeguard and saw an opportunity to advance by earning his EMT certification. He chose Palomar because “it was convenient, it worked with my schedule, and financially it was totally feasible. It was an open door into a whole other world, and that world was healthcare.”

Byzak said Palomar is one of 50 key partners in Tri-City’s COASTAL Commitment (COASTAL stands for Community Outreach and Support Through Active Leadership).

“We feel very passionately about engaging in partnerships in the community that help people who have potential, but may have never had an opportunity to pursue it,” Byzak said. “Palomar College is a gateway to opportunity—especially for people from nontraditional backgrounds, or who have hit some bumps in the road.”

Palomar’s nursing program has adapted in the era of COVID-19, and the changes include adjustments to clinical training. Under normal circumstances, the college sends about 40 students every semester to Tri-City for their clinicals, during which they each receive 328 hours of training.

“Tri-City’s partnership with Palomar College has really been integral to developing local talent, and keeping that local talent here,” Byzak said. “When I look at the number of people that have been trained in Palomar’s nursing and EMT programs—they get the opportunity to pursue their careers locally, and we get to do on-the-job interviews and hire the best of the best.”

This year, in addition to its financial commitment, Tri-City staff also provided a series of lectures to students in the EME program—one talk each by Byzak, cardiologist Ashish Kabra, MD, and neurologist Laura Desadier, DO.

Plans are in the works for a classroom in the Palomar EME program to be named and dedicated in Tri-City’s honor.

“Aaron Byzak has been an outstanding leader on the Foundation Board of Directors,” said Rungaitis, “and we look forward to expanding opportunities between our two institutions in the years to come.”