NWA Campus

Jon Parham

North West Arkansas Campus

Creating or expanding strategic partnerships will play a key role in strengthening UAMS clinical, academic and research programs in the fast-growing northwest corner of the state now and in the future.

When the UAMS northwest campus in Fayetteville opened in 2007, its initial focus was to expand academic enrollment. Adding facilities to accommodate some upper-level medical and pharmacy students would broaden their educational experience while plans for a new internal medicine residency program meant more new physicians would be starting their careers in the state.

The campus has grown to 201 students in medicine, nursing, pharmacy and the allied health professions. There also are 30 UAMS family medicine and two psychiatry resident physicians in the region.

“The health care and academic situation has changed and UAMS has an opportunity now to assess the region’s needs and how we can best deliver on our health improvement mission moving forward,” said Peter O. Kohler, M.D., vice chancellor for the UAMS Northwest Arkansas Campus. 

A UAMS strategic planning effort for the region underway has highlighted potential avenues forward that balance regional needs and statewide impact. The planning assessed needs in academics, patient care and research.

Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., UAMS provost and chief academic officer, said UAMS has opportunities to build on the successful foundation of the regional campus with new programs. However, these programs must be able to sustain themselves financially in a time of tighter budgets and declining funding for research grants nationally.

“We know there’s likely not going to be new money for expanding or creating programs, so what we do has to have a sustainable business plan,” she said. “We’re going to look for opportunities to build programs and partner with other institutions in collaborations that benefit the programs and Arkansas.”

UAMS and its regional campus both already have a strong reputation for adapting to changing health care needs. Partnerships with health care or community organizations have been a proven catalyst.

One of the university’s newest programs, and the first to be based solely on the Fayetteville campus, is physical therapy. It welcomed its first 24 students in August 2015. The Northwest Outpatient Therapy Clinic opened on the campus in late 2014 with a staff of experienced physical, occupational and speech therapists and top-of-the-line therapeutic devices.

The clinic provides treatment to elderly patients, veterans and athletes, whether they are recovering from an injury or a chronic condition that affects their mobility or speech. In addition, the clinic provides UAMS physical therapy students experience working with patients while under supervision of clinic staff.

An occupational therapy academic program is now in development. The program would be operated jointly between UAMS and the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Gardner said, similar to how the audiology and speech pathology program is jointly operated between UAMS and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

“Building a joint program allows us to leverage the strengths already in existence on each campus,” Gardner said. “Also, it complements our physical therapy program.”

The first occupational therapy students could arrive as soon as fall 2017.

Kohler also points to a regional need for medical specialists. Creating new medical residency programs will have new physicians beginning their careers in the region while receiving specialty training as they serve their residency following graduation from medical school.

“No one else is positioned to do that,” Kohler said of graduate medical education in the state.

Plans for an internal medicine residency in northwest Arkansas date back to the original concept for the regional campus. In September 2015, UAMS Physical Therapyreceived accreditation for the residency program, with the first resident physicians to arrive in July 2016.

The three-year residency program will admit eight new physicians annually for specialized training while serving residencies at Mercy Health System Northwest Arkansas in Rogers or at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville. They also will see patients at a new outpatient clinic opening this year on the UAMS Northwest Arkansas Campus.

Kohler said the program could be a blueprint for future residency programs in the region, addressing needs for more physicians trained in emergency medicine, surgery or any of the internal medicine subspecialties such as cardiology, pulmonology and gastroenterology. 

Gardner said efforts to expand research in northwest Arkansas will focus on possible collaborations and opportunities to tie clinical activity to areas of need.

One example is the Center for Pacific Islander Health, co-directed by Nia Aitaoto, Ph.D., and Pearl McElfish, Ph.D., that opened on the northwest Arkansas campus in 2015. Northwest Arkansas is home to the largest Marshallese population in the continental United States, as well as a smaller number of other Pacific Islanders.

The center focuses on health disparities research, disease prevention and management, cultural competency training for health care providers, and community health worker training. Kohler said strategies developed by the center could translate to effective approaches for the state’s growing Hispanic population and other underserved populations.

The North Street Clinic opened on the campus in 2014 and provides health services to the Marshallese community and education opportunities for UAMS students. The Marshallese have one of the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the world, affecting as many as 50 percent of adults in northwest Arkansas.

UAMS students from all programs on the campus manage clinic services and coordinate care under supervision, giving them experience providing care for populations that experience health disparities.

“This clinic is a convergence of our commitments to addressing health disparities in our community and offering opportunities for our students to strengthen their skills through interprofessional education,” Kohler said.

Family medicine resident physicians have helped provide care for residents of the Arkansas Veterans Home, a skilled nursing facility operated by the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs in space leased on the UAMS campus. Since 2014, students from other campus programs have participated in interprofessional visits to the home as part of the overall care given by facility staff. In addition, the Northwest Outpatient Therapy Clinic is the therapy provider for the facility.

  Through the formation of non-profit corporation ARHealth Ventures, UAMS has joined with Washington Regional Medical Center and the Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Arkansas in another potential partnership — applying to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to create a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) organization.

A model for managed care, PACE strives to enable people 55 years of age or older who have been certified by the state to need nursing facility care, to live as independently as possible.

For enrollees, UAMS would offer the physical, speech and occupational therapy services of its clinic and the home caregiver training delivered through the Schmieding Home Caregiver Training Program of the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging.

“If approved, the PACE organization will be another example of UAMS working with local partners to address a particular health care need in the region — in this case improved care for our aging population,” Kohler said.