UAMS College of Health Related Professions Celebrates 40th Anniversary

By Nate Hinkel

UAMS established the college in 1971 by joining together five existing programs — dental hygiene, radiological technology, medical technology, biomedical instrumentation technology and surgical technology. The college’s programs now cover a range of capacities and settings, from direct patient care to support services. Almost 700 students are enrolled in programs at certificate, bachelor, post-baccalaureate, advanced certificate, master and doctoral levels.

“Our College of Health Related Professions has been a nationally recognized leader in the allied health professions through the years by establishing programs that meet the changing needs of patients and emerging technology,” said UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D.

Allied Health Professions Week, Nov. 6-12, annually recognizes the contributions of the varied allied health professionals. Allied health professionals constitute about 60-65 percent of the health care workforce in the United States.

“Whenever new technology, new practices, new methods or techniques in health care are developed, they almost always move into the allied health professions as a first step toward implementation,” said College of Health Related Professions Dean Douglas Murphy, Ph.D., who became the college’s third dean earlier this year. “Looking at the college’s history, it has earned a solid reputation because its leaders and faculty members have been innovative and collaborative in finding ways to produce quality allied health care professionals.”

The seeds of the college were planted with a merger of medical technology programs at UAMS, the Veterans Administration Medical Center and St. Vincent Infirmary in the late 1960s. The college’s founding dean, Tip Nelms, D.D.S., M.Ed., said then-UAMS Chancellor James Dennis, M.D., suggested joining it with other existing allied health programs on the campus.

The college was approved by the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees in 1971. “Just bringing it all together was a challenge,” said Nelms, who was dean from 1971-1982. “The programs had been working independently or under the College of Medicine or other entities, so we had to get everyone to work together. There was a lot of give and take.”

Through much of its existence, the college faced hurdles to forging its own identity. Its programs were spread across multiple locations on and off the UAMS campus.

“It was challenge to build a college-like atmosphere from a collection of programs that were located in seven different places,” said Ronald Winters, Ph.D., the college’s second dean, serving from 1982-2011.

In 1989, the college began an affiliation with the UAMS Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program that led to several of its programs being hosted at AHEC locations across the state. Online education and interactive video also accelerated the educational accessibility to Arkansas, expanding access to the college’s programs across the state, region and nation. Today, two-thirds of the college’s students are taking at least one course through distance education.

“We made the conscious decision to take the programs to students who could not attend classes on the UAMS campus,” Winters said.

In 2009, the college finally found a home as most of its programs moved to renovated buildings formerly part of the Arkansas State Hospital adjacent to the UAMS campus. Murphy said the location serves as a great resource to promote collaboration among the college’s programs and more cross-professional education.

Academic success also has long been a college hallmark. More than 85 percent of its graduates pass certification and licensing exams in their respective professions.

“I do believe my program and the College of Health Related Professions is preparing me for a rewarding career and I am grateful for all the opportunities I have had,” said Charia Hall, president of the college’s student council and a second-year student in the audiology doctoral program that is a consortium of UAMS and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Murphy said he sees the college as well positioned for future success with its new home and a growing array of programs. A physician assistant program is moving through the approval and accreditation process and hopes to enroll its first students in the summer 2013. Workforce shortages exist in almost every health care profession in Arkansas and are expected to worsen in the decades to come as baby boomers retire and the demand for health care increases.

Most all of the allied health professions represented at UAMS were projected to grow on pace or faster than the average for all occupations between 2008-2018, said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in its 2010-2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook.

“We can build on our strengths — our people and technology — to continue to address health care workforce needs for years to come,” Murphy said.