By Jack Roth
Edwin Hernandez, PhD, president of Adventist University of Healthcare Sciences (ADU), is successfully feeding the local healthcare talent pipeline with skilled professionals and good citizens. With several highly regarded health science programs, the university has grown from Orlando’s “best kept secret” to an important player in the region’s education and healthcare sectors. Hernandez recently spoke with us about his role as president, his passion for inspiring people, and his goals for the future of ADU.
Who or what inspired you to choose a path in academia?
My mother, Alba, stayed home to raise my brother and me when we were very young, then returned to school for her nursing degree while we were still in school. It was inspiring to see how education transformed her life and led to a very fulfilling career. My father, Fred, was also a strong influence. A minister in the Seventh-day Adventist church and a denominational leader, he believed strongly in my potential and encouraged me to pursue higher goals. When I was an undergraduate at Loma Linda, one of my professors, Dr. Rick Rice, invited me to give up my job on a student paint crew to come work as his academic assistant. He became both my inspiration and mentor, and was instrumental in my journey toward a career in academia.
You have degrees in both theology and sociology. How has this helped you in your ADU career?
The intersection of theology and sociology is an interesting one… it is where our spiritual beliefs and values connect with our cultural norms and expectations. Both fields of study — theology and sociology — have given me profound insights into people: what they believe and how they interact. I know as a theologian and a sociologist that the most powerful levers for human achievement are in our brains, yes, but also in our hearts and souls. When we’re driven by deep beliefs and genuine motivation, when we’re inspired by educators and leaders who elevate our thinking, when we’re challenged by high expectations and supported by people who believe in our potential, we can soar.
How does a good learning environment enhance the learning experience?
One of the most important roles of a university is creating an environment conducive to learning — one that sparks curiosity, encourages inquiry, explores divergent views, develops people’s talents and abilities. When we create that kind of an environment, it cultivates confidence, conversations, creativity — all the elements that drive innovation and excellence. The next great innovations in healthcare will come in the next decade, and ADU and Florida Hospital will be at the forefront of ensuring we don’t lose our humanity and our whole person care philosophy in the face of ever-increasing technology.
What do you believe is your greatest challenge as President of ADU?
Time, the great equalizer. We all have the same number of hours in a day. Warren Buffett, the sage of investment value, says that because time is our most finite resource, it’s our most valuable. My biggest challenge is making sure I make every hour, every minute count.
What is your no. 1 goal as president of the university?
Smart growth. The demand for new, trained health sciences professionals continues to grow. ADU graduates are in high demand because we have a solid reputation for equipping students with advanced skills and deep compassion. Patients at Florida Hospital have told me they can always tell the ADU graduates by their kindness and compassion. We never want to lose that. At the same time, we must grow, both in the number of programs and the number of students, to meet the demand of the healthcare workforce.
What do you love most about your job?
When I think about the ability to initiate new ways of creating opportunity, expanding and growing the organization, it is exciting. To be part of a new moment in the history of the organization… to harness opportunities and take it to a new level, inspires me every day. For my entire career ,I’ve been raising the expectations of people, encouraging them to achieve. We have an excellent faculty at ADU, yet everyone can be better teachers, role models, leaders, lead in clinical space and exemplify extraordinary uncommon care. The best part of my job is helping people discover that, and then seeing what they achieve.
When you talk to students, what do you most want to convey to them?
I had a recent encounter with a tall young man on campus. We were engaged in wonderful conversation, and he said to me, “Dr. Hernandez, we need to have better vegan options in the cafe. This is a health science organization.” I laughed and told him he was right! So, in the fall, we’re starting a healthy campus initiative. When I talk to students, I want to listen first. I can learn from them. They’re brilliant and thoughtful and committed to making the world a better place. I just want to convey to them that I see their brilliance. I see their thoughtfulness. I see their commitment. I sense their hunger for purpose and meaning. I believe in them.
Where do you see ADU in 10 years?
The next decade will be consequential. In ADU’s first 25 years, the faculty, staff and administration built a broad range of academic programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including online degrees. In 10 years, we’ll have enriched and expanded these offerings to include new waves of research, a continuously evolving range of innovative clinical partnerships with Florida Hospital and Adventist Health System, strategic collaborations with other universities, an increase in research and publishing, and facilities equipped to provide exceptional and increasingly technology-rich educational opportunities for our students.