November 3, 2008

Allied Health Professions Week Highlights Work Force Needs

UAMS medical technology students practice microscope work. Medical technology is one of many allied health professions.

Nov. 3, 2008 |
A new home on the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences campus will position the UAMS College of Health Related Professions (CHRP) to produce more radiologic technologists, respiratory therapists and many other professionals in response to a growing need.


Work force shortages are predicted with the increase in demand for medical care combined with the baby boomer generation, including many currently practicing health care professionals, reaching retirement age.  As part of National Allied Health Professions Week, Nov. 2-8, CHRP Dean Ronald Winters, Ph.D., noted that the allied health professionals – who together with physicians, nurses and pharmacists make up most of the modern health care team – will become increasingly important as these work force shortages grow.


Shortages of physicians, nurses and pharmacists severely impact the allied health professions, Winters said. As more people need medical care, advanced practice professionals are being created to allow physicians and clinics to see more patients, he said. Radiologist assistants, for example, assist radiologists in providing access to imaging services by freeing more radiologists to do more of the things only they can do.


“The more people who need care, the more important these physician extenders – most of whom are allied health professionals – will become,” Winters said.


The college, which includes programs in 17 different professional areas, will be able to further increase enrollment in many of those programs with a coming major facility upgrade.


In early 2009, most of CHRP’s programs will move into eight renovated buildings that were once part of the Arkansas State Hospital. The complex, with about 72,000-square-feet of space next to the UAMS Residence Hall and new I. Dodd Wilson Education Building, will consolidate most of the college’s programs, previously spread across locations in Little Rock and North Little Rock.


“The new space will give our programs room to continue growing as we work to meet the state’s health care work force needs,” Winters said.


Winters said the allied health professions, which include as many as 200 different professions, today account for 57 percent of the modern health care team, along with physicians, nurses and pharmacists. At UAMS, the allied health professions programs include programs in: audiology & speech pathology, cytotechnology, dental hygiene, diagnostic medical sonography, dietetics and nutrition, emergency medical sciences, genetic counseling, health information management, medical dosimetry, medical technology, nuclear medicine imaging sciences, ophthalmic technologies, radiation therapy, radiologic imaging sciences, radiologist assistant, respiratory care and surgical technology.


The college’s enrollment is among the largest at UAMS with 584 students registered in the CHRP and 75 more CHRP students registered in the Graduate School. 


Winters said the new facility will mark the first time in the college’s history that most of its programs have been together. Renovations will transform the former state hospital buildings into office space, work areas, small classrooms, teaching labs and conference rooms. Also included will be creation of a student study center, offering study space for individuals and groups.


The new space comes at a time when Winters said more health care professionals are going to be needed in Arkansas. He pointed to a 2008 study by the UAMS Regional Programs Office that found some 9,500 current vacancies at hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities in Arkansas. That figure was projected to grow to more than 23,000 within the next five years.


Also helping the CHRP address work force needs will be the planned UAMS satellite campus in Northwest Arkansas, Winters said. The UAMS-Northwest campus is expected to open to students in 2009.


Currently the radiologic imaging sciences and diagnostic medical sonography programs have students taking classes at the UAMS Area Health Education Center (AHEC) in Fayetteville. Winters said those programs could grow, and others such as respiratory care or health information management could be established at the satellite campus as space and need arise.



CHRP graduates are not only finding it easier to find a job, they also are finding success in passing national registry and certification exams in their respective disciplines.


“Nearly every program has exceeded the national average in firstt-time pass rates,” Winters said. “Not only that, but the average passing scores for CHRP graduates have generally exceeded national average passing scores.”


This includes some of the largest programs, including dental hygiene, where all 32 graduates in 2007 passed the National Board for Dental Hygiene exam the first time. All 42 graduates from the Nuclear Medicine Imaging Sciences program passed the Nuclear Medical Technologists Certification Examination the first time.


Perfect first-time pass rates also were reported on the sonography, dietetics, health information management, radiation therapy, radiologist assistant and respiratory care exams. Meanwhile, 90 percent or more speech pathologists, medical technologists and radiologic technologists who graduated from UAMS passed their exams on the first attempt.


“It’s good for the graduates but it’s also good for Arkansas because a large majority of these graduates remain in the state to work in their respective professions,” Winters said.