College of Health Professions Celebrates Graduates in May

By Ben Boulden

That sense of accomplishment may have even been deeper for some because of the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic brought to everyone in health care education.

Graduates of the Dental Hygiene Class of 2021 seen here during their virtual graduation.

Graduates of the Dental Hygiene Class of 2021 seen here during their virtual graduation. Claire Tucker, chair of the Department of Dental Hygiene spoke, top row and second from left, as did College of Health Professions Dean Susan Long, second row and fourth from the left.

“We witnessed you come together during some of the most difficult times for the nation and world have ever faced,” said Layla Simmons, M.Ed., RDMS, during the virtual ceremony for Diagnostic Medical Sonography graduates. “The way you’ve lifted each other and encouraged each other to keep pushing forward to work for the end goal, which is here now, is a testament to the kind of professionals you each have become. Thank you for your patience and pushing us to become better leaders and instructors. Thank you for trusting us most of all.”

Simmons is the program director and an assistant professor of Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

Besides the sonography program, graduations were held in May for students in Audiology and Speech Pathology, Dental Hygiene, Genetic Counseling, Physical Therapy, Respiratory Care and the Dietetic Internship program

“I know this graduation isn’t what we all hoped it would be,” said Claire Tucker, Ed.D., RDH, chair of the Department of Dental Hygiene. “I know everybody wanted to see their graduates walk across that stage. However, we are grateful for this opportunity to celebrate the graduates on a Saturday so all the friends and family could join in. I know you’re all really proud of them just as we are.”

College of Health Professions Dean Susan Long, Ed.D., said the “sun came out” at the end of the dental hygiene students’ last academic year in the form of a new, 7,000 square-foot clinic in the Freeway Medical Tower. She said if it’s not the best dental hygiene clinic, then it’s at least in the top three.

Diagnostic Medical Sonography Class of 2021 graduates

Diagnostic Medical Sonography Class of 2021 graduates, and bottom left, Layla Simmons, DMS program director, addresses the class on Zoom.

The Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology celebrated 19 graduates with master’s degrees in communication sciences and disorders, 11 with their doctor of audiology degrees and two graduates with their doctor of philosophy degrees in communication sciences and disorders.

Laura Smith-Olinde, professor and chair of the department, reminded the graduates that although they may have finished the work for their new degrees, that personal milestone doesn’t have to be the end of their relationship with UAMS and the department.

“As you venture out to the real world, our faculty are available as a resource and as colleagues. Please consider us your academic home for life,” she said. “Today, you’re probably feeling relief that you have no more classes, exams or clinical practicum assignments due. But, don’t forget you must remain lifelong learners and become stewards of the profession.”

They also can qualify after three years of working in their fields to be an off-campus clinical supervisor or a preceptor, Smith-Olinde said.

During the ceremony for sonography graduates, Tina Maddox, Ph.D., the college’s associate dean of Academic Affairs, noted that 80 different health professions make up the allied health professions, which encompass 60% of all health care providers — more than physicians, nurses and pharmacists combined.

“Out of things that challenge us, good things arrive,” Long said, referring to the pandemic. “You got to your destination, and you’re much stronger for it. Your resilience, grace and tenacity have gotten you to this point. Reflect back on the situation and be proud of yourselves.”