College of Medicine Welcomes Diverse Class of 2025

By Linda Satter

Others have run their own businesses, labored in construction, edited newspapers and supervised air traffic controllers. Some have received U.S. Army medals or honors in scouting, mathematics, dog training and even rapid solving of the Rubik’s cube.

Adding to the mix of high achievers beginning their medical education are marching band members, musicians and a book author.

There are tennis, baseball and soccer team captains, a marathon runner, an Ultimate Frisbee player, a skateboarder and a mountain biker.

The class is almost equally split among men and women, with men making up 52%. Their ages range from 20 to 33, averaging out at 23. For incoming freshmen, 82% received their undergraduate degree from Arkansas colleges.

On the evening of Aug. 6, the diverse group came together virtually from their homes to join James Graham, M.D., executive associate dean for academic affairs, as he read aloud the medical student oath, which has been a tradition at UAMS and other medical schools for 25 years. Then, one by one, the students looked into their computer or cellphone cameras and unmuted their microphones just long enough to introduce the family members or friends standing beside them who helped them don their white coats.

While 65% of the new medical students are white, 11.5% are Black, nearly 10% are Asian American, 7% are Hispanic/Latino and 3% are Native American. Another 3.6% didn’t specify their race on admission documents.

Welcoming the students – who were accepted from a pool of 3,012 applicants in 43 states — were Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, and several College of Medicine faculty members who spoke from a podium in the Fred W. Smith Auditorium in the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute.

Because of a COVID-19 pandemic surge in Arkansas, the white coat ceremony was the second in as many years to be held virtually.

“This leap connects you to a cause much greater than yourself,” said Sara Tariq, M.D., the college’s associate dean for student affairs who worked tirelessly to put a week of orientation and the ceremony together.

Though the students start their medical education with a short white coat, those who go on to receive medical degrees will replace the short coat with a long white coat before heading off to residency programs.

“This white coat should always remind you not just of how far you’ve come but also where you started,” said Patterson, standing behind a podium in his white coat. “This coat is not a status symbol, and really, it is not designed to separate you from the people you work with. More than anything else, it is a reminder of how much good you can bring to the world. It is not a differentiator, but it is your superpower.”

The white coat signifies adherence to uncompromising ethical and professional standards. Patterson advised the students that donning a white coat comes with the responsibility to manage their behavior at all times — whether wearing the coat or not.

 “Doctors do not sit on a pedestal,” he told them. “We work with nurses, we work with patient care technicians, we work with pharmacists. Don’t walk past anybody in the hallway without recognizing them just because you’re in a white coat.”

The class also heard from Susan Smyth, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice chancellor at UAMS and dean of the College of Medicine.

“Members of the Class of 2025, welcome to UAMS and to the journey of a lifetime,” she said. “You are selected to be in our class because we know that you can contribute to our mission, which is to improve the health, health care and well-being of Arkansans, others in the region, the nation and around the world.”

“With this as a guiding tenet, we have graduated over 10,500 physicians since 1879,” Smyth said.

She also told the class, “As physicians, wherever you practice, I ask that you always put the health and well-being of your patients first. This is at the heart of being a physician, and it is the foundation of the Hippocratic Oath. The coat symbolizes your commitment to the science of medicine, the art of healing and service to humanity.”

Keynote speaker Romona Davis, M.D., an ophthalmologist in the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, participated in UAMS’ first white coat ceremony as a student in 1996. She urged the Class of 2025 to remember that “you matter, you belong and you will be supported.”

Despite lengthy schedules that will often interfere with important life events, she promised, “You will find your way.”

Katie Kinder of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, the student who is the great-great-great-granddaughter of P.O. Hooper, said she found her way to UAMS not because of her ancestral connections, which she didn’t even know about at the time she applied, but because of the college’s proximity to her family.

Kathleen "Katie" Kinder is helped into her white coat by her mother, as seen on a large screen in the auditorium.

Kathleen “Katie” Kinder is helped into her white coat by her mother, as seen on a large screen in the auditorium.Evan Lewis

Her maternal grandparents live in Hot Springs, and her parents live just four hours away in Missouri.

But as it turned out, UAMS’ location was just the icing on the cake.

“Once I started looking into the school, I was really impressed by the programs and culture in place at UAMS,” she said recently. “I like that the school focused on how best to use the latest technology and ideas to improve the health and lives of people in Arkansas. Having grown up in a small town, I appreciate that it’s focused on the needs of the state and region as a whole, not just on metropolitan areas.”

It wasn’t until she told relatives on her father’s side of the family that she had applied at UAMS that she learned of her ties to the college.

Not only did she discover that she is a descendant of Hooper, but she also is the great-great-great-great niece of another co-founder, James A. Dibrell Jr., M.D., also on her father’s side of the family, as well as the great-great-great granddaughter of E.R. DuVal, M.D., on her mother’s side of the family. DuVal served alongside Hooper on the original school’s board of trustees.

As she explained it, “Dr. Hooper and Dr. DuVal had children who married, and that couple had a granddaughter who is my grandmother.”

Now that she knows how deep her medical roots go, she said, “I’m very proud of the work Dr. Hooper and my other relatives did to establish good medical education in Arkansas.”

Hooper and 12 other physicians organized the Little Rock and Pulaski County Medical Society in 1866 in response to his concerns that many in the community were receiving inferior care from eclectic and homeopathic “healers” who were forming organizations and establishing colleges.

He went on to steer the formation of the Arkansas State Medical Association in 1870 and later, the state Medical Society.

Meanwhile, Hooper helped establish a medical school in Arkansas called the Arkansas Industrial University Medical Department, which opened in 1879 with six students. He served as dean of the school that eventually became UAMS until he resigned in 1882 to become superintendent of the Arkansas Lunatic Asylum, now the Arkansas State Hospital, which he also helped found.

Hooper Drive, which passes between the two institutions he was instrumental in founding, was named after him.

“I doubt he could have imagined the lasting impact the school would have on the state and all the innovative health care delivered because of it,” said Kinder, 142 years later.

Hooper died in 1902, at age 68.

Another noteworthy member of the class of 2025 is Megan Clark, a former Duke University All-American track and field star who is attending medical school at UAMS’ Northwest Regional Campus in Fayetteville.

Megan Clark, helped into her white coat by her brother.

Megan Clark, helped into her white coat by her brother, as seen from the auditorium.Evan Lewis

She grew up in several American cities due to her father’s military career, and moved to Fayetteville in 2019 from the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, in search of a coaching change.

She participated in the Olympic finals in 2016 and took advantage of the opportunity again this year but didn’t make the team. Now at 27, she is focused on another longtime dream: medical school.

“I’ve been interested in medicine for as long as I can remember,” she said. In fact, she was a pre-med undergraduate. But in her junior year of college, she knew she wanted to compete on an international level in pole vaulting, so she took a detour to focus on that.

“As a pole vaulter,” Clark said, “I was able to train or compete in 11 countries, win NACAC (North America, Central America and Caribbean) Championships, win a junior national title and be a two-time Olympic Trials finalist.”

After those accomplishments, she said, it was time to turn the focus to the next part of her life plan: retiring from track to pursue a medical career, with an eye toward specializing in pediatric orthopedics.

It all started when she was just a baby.

“I was born two months early, and the experience my parents had in the NICU, and the hope that the care team provided, has given me the opportunity to chase two dreams,” she said.

“I applied at UAMS because I was here in Arkansas,” she said. “Then the more I learned about the program, the more excited I was. It’s the only school that I feel is actually walking the walk when it comes to valuing diversity, caring for students as humans as well as future physicians, and creating a support scaffold that helps students meet their potential.”