UAMS College of Medicine Welcomes Class of 2026 to Two Campuses

By Linda Satter

The new physicians-in-training gathered for the first in-person ceremony celebrating this rite of passage since 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But this time, the gathering of class members was divided between Robinson Center Performance Hall in Little Rock, which the majority of the 188 freshmen attended, and Butterfield Trail Village in Fayetteville, where 17 of them are beginning medical school.

Three of the 17 on the Northwest Regional Campus are enrolled in the accelerated primary care track program, which began last year and is offered only at the Fayetteville campus. The other 14 students — along with their Little Rock counterparts — are enrolled in the traditional four-year track. Students in both tracks will earn a Doctor of Medicine degree at the conclusion of their studies.

Until last year, all four-year track students had to begin medical school at the Little Rock campus, with the option of completing the final two years of study in Fayetteville.

Reciting the Medical Student Oath before taking the stage to don their white coats, resting on the chair in front of each student.

Reciting the Medical Student Oath before taking the stage to don their white coats, resting on the chair in front of each student.

Linda Worley, M.D., associate regional dean of the College of Medicine at the Northwest Regional Campus, told the incoming students that this is the first time that the Northwest campus enrollment has included students at all stages of medical school.

Before the students appeared onstage single-file to have their white coats draped over the shoulders by a faculty adviser, sometimes with a family member, UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, told them, “I am so grateful that you have chosen health care as your profession, and I am so envious of the journey you are about to take.”

After receiving their white coats, students posed with family onstage while having their picture taken. Photo of a female student in white coat and her family

After receiving their white coats, students posed with family onstage while having their picture taken.

The students assigned to the Compton academic house, based in Fayetteville, were the first to formally don the coat — a shorter version of the one they will receive after receiving their medical degrees. Then all eyes turned to the larger crowd in Little Rock, where the students approached the stage in groups, by academic houses.

Patterson told the budding physicians to enjoy taking their time talking to patients while they’re students, and later residents, because, “you may never have another opportunity to talk to patients as long as that, once you get past medical school.”

“It’s going to be a tough four years,” he said. “You’re going to accomplish so much. You will be an incredibly different person when you finish.”

The students were selected from 409 applicants who were interviewed, including 77 from out of state. Just 7% of all 2,730 applicants were accepted.

For some students, medicine runs in the family.

For some students, medicine runs in the family. Sam Schach (center) is flanked by his father, Chris Schach, M.D., and maternal grandfather, Joseph H. Bates, M.D.Bryan Clifton

According to Tom G. South, assistant dean of Medical Student Admissions at UAMS, those selected range in age from 21 to 37, with an average age of 23. Fifty-two percent are female. Most of them — 72% — majored in one of the traditional sciences, with biology leading the way at 43%. Psychology and biomedical engineering majors accounted for the most common nontraditional science majors.

“I cannot think of a more exciting time to begin a journey to become a physician,” said Susan Smyth, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice chancellor and dean of the College of Medicine. “Congratulations on all of your accomplishments and achievements that got you here today.”

“You were selected,” she said, “because we know that you can contribute to our mission, which is to improve health and well-being for Arkansans and those in our region, our nation and worldwide. With this as a guiding tenet since 1879, we have graduated more than 10,600 physicians.”

The crowd claps as another student dons his white coat.

The crowd claps as another student dons his white coat.

“Tonight,” she said, “you will be reciting the medical student oath and donning that important emblem of our profession, the white coat. The coat symbolizes your commitment to the science of medicine, the art of healing and service to humanity. It symbolizes your pledge to adhere to uncompromising ethical and professional standards. Our professional standards are like guardrails that guide us and focus us on what matters most, such as respecting our patients’ backgrounds and perspectives, especially when they differ from ours.”

The students also heard from Danny Wilkerson, M.D., a professor of anesthesiology who is past president and chairman of the board of trustees of the Arkansas Medical Society, and from Rebecca Latch, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics who graduated from UAMS in 2000 and gave the keynote address.

Latch said that when invited to give the address, “it actually brought back memories of my own white coat ceremony in 1996, which believe it or not was the inaugural white coat ceremony.”

She urged the students to remember four lessons she learned from her days in medical school: 1) they all deserve to be here, 2) they have to do the work to continue to deserve to be here, 3) they need to take care of themselves so they can take care of others, and 4) they each need to “find their people,” meaning those who challenge them, support them and can mentor them.

Rebecca Latch, M.D., was the keynote speaker.

Rebecca Latch, M.D., was the keynote speaker.Bryan Clifton

“No one’s perfect. We all mistakes, and it’s what you do with those mistakes that defines you,” Latch said.

She implored them, “While your career is a big part of your life, it’s not your whole life. Medical school is hard, and I’ve seen colleagues distance themselves from loved ones and lose the connections and activities that matter. Y ’all, don’t do this. This is when you need your support system the most.”

A student and her parents for a picture.

A student and her parents pose for a picture.

After reciting aloud the Medical Student Oath, led by James Graham, M.D., executive associate dean for academic affairs, the students donned their white coats, one by one, ready to begin their medical education.

Sara Tariq, M.D., led the ceremony.

Sara Tariq, M.D., led the ceremony.Bryan Clifton

Sara Tariq, M.D., the college’s associate dean for student affairs who led the ceremony, concluded it with these words: “I wish and pray for you to have ease these years. I wish for confidence with humility. I wish for fortitude and an open heart for others. Mostly, I hope and wish and pray that you have a rewarding journey ahead. Welcome to our profession and to our UAMS family.”