University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
For more than 140 years, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) has promoted a better state of health for all Arkansans. As the only health sciences university in Arkansas, UAMS lives out its mission to “improve the health, health care, and well-being of Arkansans and others in the region, nation, and the world” and has made community engagement central to its patient- and family-centered care, education, and research.
Culturally diverse, Arkansas is home to many Latino families and the largest concentration of Marshallese in the United States. As such, all UAMS programs, including Smarter Lunchrooms and Delivering Health, seek to influence social determinants of health and reduce community-identified health disparities, such as diet and food insecurity. Community members are partners in the research and evaluation of every UAMS program, including its Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support (DSME) programs. UAMS has provided culturally adapted, patient- and family-centered DSME, leading research staff to expand its reach from Northwest Arkansas to the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
A community-based participatory approach is also central to helping UAMS establish and maintain trusting relationships with the community, with bidirectional collaboration and shared leadership at the core. “How the community experiences our intent is most important,” explained Pearl McElfish, PhD, MBA, vice chancellor of the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus.
Administrators, faculty, learners, and community partners are collectively involved in projects to influence greater impact and service. The success of this approach is apparent through initiatives like the Gift of Sight, a student-designed effort where UAMS and community partners volunteer their time to supply free cataract surgery for members of the Marshallese community affected by diabetes. To train the next generation of physicians from a community-engaged lens, UAMS requires students to work on interprofessional teams in collaboration with community health workers. Students learn cultural competency and culinary medicine, and they care for patients at free student-led clinics in both Little Rock and Fayetteville. At the eight regional campuses of UAMS, multiple programs aim to meet the diverse needs of its students and communities, including HBCU Med Track, which supports underrepresented minority students working toward careers in health care and serves to address physician shortages in Arkansas.
The COVID-19 pandemic intensified UAMS’ community involvement, particularly as it became apparent that Arkansas’ Latino and Marshallese populations were disproportionally impacted. UAMS partnered with multiple agencies to provide COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, enhanced case management, and culturally appropriate vaccination and health education. Navigators worked with community-based organizations to supply personal protective equipment kits, food boxes, and rental aid to more than 3,000 individuals. Bilingual contact tracers reached more than 80% of index cases and contacts within 24 hours, helping to stop the spread of COVID-19 considerably in those communities.
When asked to share his view of UAMS, Eldon Alik, consul general for the Marshall Islands, remarked, “They don’t tell us; they ask us what they can do to help. UAMS, they’ve got it!” The impact of UAMS reverberates throughout its community and beyond.