UAMS Nuclear Education Online Program Receives Federal Education Grant

By todd

The grant, awarded by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) through the U.S. Department of Education, will allow UAMS and its NEO program partner, the University of New Mexico, to train physicians, radiochemists, pharmacists and technologists across the country in nuclear cardiology and positron emission tomography, a procedure that shows detailed images of internal organs.

The FIPSE grant is awarded to innovative projects that hold promise as models for the resolution of important issues and problems in postsecondary education. The grant will run three years, with $189,423 being awarded for the first year. The entire project will cost $767,000, with the FIPSE grant providing 57 percent of the funding and the remainder covered by non-federal sources.

“This grant can potentially impact more than 500 programs, serving several thousand students and health care professionals in need of specialized nuclear medicine training,” said Nicki Hilliard, Pharm.D., associate professor of pharmacy in the UAMS College of Pharmacy. Hilliard wrote the grant proposal, “An Interdisciplinary Distance Educational Model for Specialty Education to Meet Training Needs of Healthcare Professionals.”

Nuclear Education Online ( is an educational consortium between UAMS and the University of New Mexico. Each institution’s faculty collaborated to design an online didactic curriculum and experiential training materials. Colleges are able to offer nuclear education courses to students as part of their elective course offerings and nuclear pharmacies throughout the world will be able to train new pharmacists without the expense and inconvenience of travel.

Programs that will benefit from this project include cardiology and nuclear medicine residencies, pharmacy schools, health physics and employee training. Once NEO is set up for these disciplines, the model will be made available to programs in other disciplines via workshops, interactive conferencing methods and peer-reviewed publications, Hilliard said.

To achieve these goals, the NEO project staff will redesign specialized courses for other health care disciplines and market these courses to other specialized fields of study requiring nuclear education. The staff then will share knowledge of the model with other institutions.

The project is unique in that it targets institutions that have not fully utilized distance education. It combines distance learning with problem-based learning and training at clinical sites. By doing this, it increases access to highly specialized training programs, minimizes institutional overlap and maximizes the use of technology, making it an extremely cost-effective method for delivering education.

More than 16 million nuclear medicine imaging and therapeutic procedures are performed annually in the U.S. These procedures provide information about the functioning of nearly every major organ system. Of these procedures, 40 percent to 50 percent assess cardiac function and 35 percent to 40 percent aid in diagnosing cancers. As the population ages, patient demand for such procedures will increase.

Specialized training is required for health care professionals to handle the radioactive materials used in nuclear medicine procedures. There are critical shortages of programs and educators to train the number of nuclear medicine health care professionals needed. Nuclear medicine professionals have identified the ongoing shortage of qualified staff as one of the biggest threats to their profession.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, five centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,170 students and 650 residents and is the state’s largest public employer with almost 9,000 employees. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of about $3.8 billion a year.

UAMS centers of excellence are the Arkansas Cancer Research Center, Harvey and Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Center on Aging, Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy and Jackson T. Stephens Spine and Neurosciences Institute.