By Nate Hinkel
Students at UAMS are making good on the institution’s mission to provide health care and specialty expertise not routinely available in community settings.
UAMS students across the five colleges are thrust into a culture that is rich in giving back to the unique communities across the state. So much so that it provided a pleasant surprise for College of Nursing Dean Lorraine Frazier, Ph.D., R.N., upon her arrival in fall 2011 from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Nursing.
“Coming from a city the size of Houston, it was very refreshing to see firsthand the emphasis UAMS puts on giving back to the state,” Frazier said. “I think getting students out there into communities is not only good for the people they are serving, but it’s also an integral part of receiving a well-rounded education.”
That mix of community involvement and health care experience is exactly the aim of a variety of community outreach projects that UAMS offers students.
Center of Service
Several of those projects stretch across disciplines and colleges at UAMS. That collaborative spirit is reflected best by an emerging endeavor sparked by a recent donation of a building to the College of Pharmacy.
Located near 12th and Cedar Streets about five blocks south of the UAMS campus, the building was donated to the college by Vicki and Karrol Fowlkes, of Salem, both alumni who envision its doors to be open for a student-led health and wellness community center for the uninsured.
Stephanie F. Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D, dean of the UAMS College of Pharmacy, agrees that educating students and making a difference in the community are the two hallmarks of this project.
“We know the value of locating a center dedicated to community outreach near UAMS,” Gardner said. “It will provide great opportunities for our students to gain experience, while providing services for people in the area and promoting good health. It’s a prime example of what UAMS is all about.”
The college’s initial vision for the building is broad, hoping to attract students from several other UAMS colleges to collaborate. Plans are being narrowed by an advisory committee made up of representatives and leaders from other areas of campus that will be contributing, including the colleges of Nursing, Health Related Professions and Public Health. Colleges at UAMS already have begun to work with community leaders to provide a variety of services, including disease management, basic dental care, medication management, patient education and immunizations.
The budding new center could possibly serve as a primary referral location for people who have been screened by students and faculty at other locations and who need follow-up care.
Amy Franks, Pharm.D., interim chair of the College of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmacy Practice, is leading the development effort.
“Though the building was donated to the College of Pharmacy, it’ll be important for us to stress the collaborative aspect of what an opportunity this can be for educating students across UAMS and giving them experience outside of their classrooms,” Franks said. “We also want to establish this building in the community as a place that promotes good health and wellness and makes a difference.”
The colleges are individually committed, as well, in their own creative ways to community outreach.
The College of Medicine reaches out in several ways to get medical students practicing and making a difference in communities. Student Sight Savers is a program held at River City Ministries in North Little Rock where students and other volunteers work with ophthalmologists and optometrists to provide complete eye exams for the underserved. College of Medicine students also volunteer at the Harmony Health Clinic in Little Rock, providing routine health care to impoverished locals and medically uninsured. It is staffed by volunteer professionals, students and doctors.
The student-run Christian Medical Association is one of several groups that organize an annual medical mission trip, but student volunteers can also be found lending a hand in the community throughout the year, such as sprucing up a local school or even serving meals at a soup kitchen.
“When I was a medical student in the 70s I don’t remember so many students working at free clinics and organizing health fairs,” said Richard Wheeler, M.D., executive associate dean for academic affairs. “While it may have been going on, I don’t recall anybody going to a third-world country for an elective or rotation. But now the opportunities for students are endless and students volunteer routinely.”
Several of the colleges also incorporate community service into the curriculum, such as the College of Nursing, which has a community health nursing course. The student nurses work at vaccine clinics, health fairs, schools and nursing homes to complete credit work.
“The community recognizes this spirit of volunteerism in our faculty, staff and students, and routinely requests our assistance,” said Cheryl Schmidt, Ph.D., R.N., associate professor and interim associate dean for academic programs. “We field calls and emails almost every week asking for volunteers. For example, one recent fall we helped the Arkansas Department of Health give more than 500,000 seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines throughout Arkansas.”
Schmidt said the Student Nurses Association spearheaded a drive last year to collect personal hygiene items to create 325 disaster comfort kits to be distributed by the American Red Cross in Arkansas. That effort earned the UAMS chapter of the National Student Nurses’ Association Outstanding Disaster Project Award in 2011.
“Students were so excited that they are beginning another drive to prepare for tornado season this year,” she said.
Kate Stewart, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor and director of the Office of Community Based Public Health in the College of Public Health, said students work with researchers aiming to improve communities in Arkansas and volunteer routinely alongside students from other colleges on campus. A program the College of Public Health started with the Mexican Consulate in Little Rock began offering limited health care services through its Ventanillo de Salud, or Health Window Program, in 2009. It eventually brought in College of Pharmacy students who have been providing influenza vaccines and preventive health screenings. More than 725 underserved immigrant patients have gotten a flu shot, more than 260 have been screened for diabetes, and about 250 were tested for hypertension and 185 for osteoporosis.
“It’s an amazing thing we’re able to do as students not only from the standpoint of helping out this diverse, underserved population, but also from an educational perspective,” said Corey Hayes, a third-year student from Morrilton who is the student leader for this community effort. “Just to be in there and see how much it means to them … many of them have driven for hundreds of miles. It is very fulfilling.”
The students’ effort at the Mexican Consulate has been so successful that the college earned a Student Community Engaged Service Award in December from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP). The recognition comes with $16,000 to sustain and support the project, for other community efforts and for student travel to promote and present their project at professional meetings.
Students in the College of Health Related Professions have strong ties in the community, whether it’s giving a vision test to a child during a health fair or traveling overseas to boost clinical programs in underdeveloped countries.
Douglas Murphy, Ph.D., College of Health Related Professions dean, said students participate in class service projects or volunteer time outside of class to work, while faculty members organize service events to provide care to underserved populations or join medical missions that take them places like earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
“We want to graduate students who are conscious of the health needs of the communities they will serve in their career,” Murphy said. “By helping establish a foundation of service, they are positioned to be leaders as both health care professionals and citizens in working to meet those needs.”