As a strategic thinker, Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., approaches a challenge by attempting to identify multiple options before defining the best path to a solution.
It’s a trait she needs as UAMS provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs since July 1, facing a time of tight
resources but increasing need for the university to produce more health care professionals for an industry undergoing deep, systematic change.
She also leads at a time when UAMS is making significant changes to the structure of its clinical enterprise and realigning elements of its academic programs to prepare students for a future with more interprofessional, team-based care delivery.
Gardner’s career journey included considering other options that might have had the book lover majoring in comparative literature or becoming a community pharmacist in her native North Carolina.
“Nobody plans to be a provost. I intended to go back home and have an independent pharmacy with a soda fountain,” she said. “I had worked in a community pharmacy. I knew I liked it. I knew I’d be happy.”
Then a good teacher and a clinical rotation in a cardiac care unit while in pharmacy school led her to consider becoming an educator.
She got her first faculty appointment in 1991 as an assistant professor in the
UAMS College of Pharmacy. Opportunity, timing and determination clicked when a departure led to her becoming acting chair for the Department of Pharmacy Practice in 1995, then full-time chair the following year.
During that period, Gardner represented the college in opening the UAMS Clinical Skills Center, first encountering Jeanne Heard, M.D., Ph.D., then serving as the center’s medical director.
I remember Dr. Gardner was serious and practical in approach and always prepared,” said Heard, who later left UAMS, returning in 2011 as vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost before retiring the end of June 2015.
In 2003, Gardner was appointed College of Pharmacy dean. While dean, her work earned the Dale Bumpers AHEC Leadership Award and the Outstanding Dean Award by the American Pharmacists Association’s Academy of Student Pharmacists.
Gardner serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education and was elected its president in 2014.
As a member of the UAMS Council of Deans, she interacted more closely with Heard. Gardner’s 24 years of institutional knowledge, including 12 years as dean, and the familiarity of the program accreditation process are her strengths, Heard said.
“She’s right for the position. She has in-depth understanding of all academic programs along with seeing the potential for the expanding programs and partnerships across the state,” Heard said. “She’s someone who is easy to work with and who listens to all sides, and she will not back down from a course of action she believes best for UAMS. She is committed to getting the job done.”
Gardner knows the job’s challenges — from limited financial resources to the dramatic changes in health care for which students must be prepared. The provost’s office is not only to manage academic support services but to support UAMS colleges as they grow in education, patient care and research aspects.
“We must balance our role of meeting workforce needs and creating academic programs to meet the health care needs of Arkansas with not a lot of excess resources,” she said.
Still, UAMS must do the right thing for its health improvement mission. Continuing to grow UAMS dental programs will be expensive, she said, but Arkansas has among the lowest number of dentists per capita in the nation and reports high numbers of children with tooth decay and adults with oral disease along with too many residents lacking access to dental care.
An option in addressing the expense of needed programs and expansion is to develop partnerships. “We need to build strong relationships with external partners — and I don’t mean just educational institutions but potentially health care organizations or others,” Gardner said.
Gardner also wants to continue the momentum in academic services started under Heard. She cited growing programs in interprofessional education and health literacy available to all students. The newly created central Office of Continuing Education and Faculty Center will seek to better serve all faculty members with easier access to professional development, career support and continuing education.
“We need to look more broadly at the services we can offer across the colleges, which is more efficient and can be more effective,” she said. “Establishing these offices as a shared resource at the university level will strengthen our faculty, which in turn benefits the students they teach, the patients they care for and the research they conduct.”