Three Programs Get New Leadership

By Ben Boulden

Summer Khairi, MBA, CNMT, succeeded Arthur Maune, M.Ed., CNMT, as program director of the Nuclear Medicine Imaging Sciences program, following his retirement after 20 years at UAMS. In addition to serving as program director, she is an assistant professor as well.

Shayla Stinnett, BS, CT, was named interim director of Cytotechnology Program in the College’s Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences following the departure of Catherine Smith, M.Ed., CT.

Natalie Benafield, Aud.D., joined UAMS in the summer as program director for the Audiology Program in the College’s Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, succeeding Laura Smith-Olinde, Ph.D., who retired at the end of 2021. Previously Benafield taught in the Communication Sciences and Disorders communication sciences and disorders graduate programs at the University of Central Arkansas and served as the graduate program coordinator

Khairi, Stinnett and Benafield all bring new ideas and energy to their positions along with a determination to further develop their programs.

Summer Khairi

Khairi started as adjunct faculty in 2017 in Nuclear Medicine Imaging Sciences, while working full-time as a nuclear medical technologist, and then in 2019 moved into a full-time position as an assistant professor and clinical coordinator.

Nuclear medicine at UAMS is a one-year program. Students come into it after completing a prerequisite 80 credit hours and receive online instruction while also working in their field at a number of different sites in Little Rock/Pine Bluff, Northwest Arkansas, Jonesboro; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and in Tyler and Dallas, Texas. They graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in nuclear medicine and enter a job market in which they are in high demand.

“With retirements, the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors, there are many positions open,” Khairi said. “Like many sectors, there is an overabundance of jobs and not enough people. We had two sites call recently and say so many of their people are planning to retire in five years, and they don’t have replacements identified yet.”

Many cities don’t even have a comparable program nearby, so the most effective way to help them is to train people already living in those areas. Khairi said the program is working on adding two new sites in the next academic year to do just that; one in Kansas and one in Louisiana.

Her biggest challenge is navigating each state’s rules and regulations in setting up a new site. Each one is different, and there’s a separate learning curve for each one, too.

“Besides expansion, our main goal to make sure our students feel supported. It’s one year and pretty fast-paced. We want to make sure each student is successful and doesn’t feel alone. We are a big family and want everyone to succeed,” Khairi said.

Shayla Stinnett

Starting her career as a cytotechnologist in 1993, Stinnett brought 30 years of experience to her role as an instructor. Her first challenge was translating her professional and career experience into an educational curriculum.

“It’s been about articulating the nonverbal, ‘muscle memory’ of experience into clear verbal communication,” Stinnett said, something she quickly became comfortable with.

The Cytology program is in person and hands on. That has helped Stinnett to bond with her students.

“We meet in the morning and are together all day,” Stinnett said. “You form strong relationships with the students. You are guiding them individually through all aspects of the field. I enjoy that as well as when things start clicking into place, and they move from student to professional.”

One of Stinnett’s most useful tools is a multi-head microscope that allows the students to see what she sees. This allows her to lecture about it in a way that is immediate and grounded visually for the students, which is especially important in a field like cytotechnology that is ever changing and growing.

As interim director, she now oversees the entire fast paced, 12-month program. She described her three main goals for the cytotechnology students in the program.

First, students earn an undergraduate degree in the field. A degree then opens the door to a career in cytology. Second is making sure they are equipped with all the skills needed to be “an exceptional, entry-level cytotech.” Stinnett said she wants to guarantee not only that her students enter the field certified, but also set up for success.

“Cytotechnologists are in great demand, and we are excited to offer clinical rotations sites across the country, including two nationwide corporate affiliations that allow our students to experience a wide range of cytology environments,” Stinnett said.

Lastly, she wants to ensure they are prepared to take and pass the board examination for certification.

Stinnett is currently completing an M.Ed. in Educational Technology Leadership, and she said she is excited to use her degree to further enhance the cytology program and continue to support and mentor the next generation of cytotechnologists.

Natalie Benafield

When Benafield transitioned into her new job as the head of the Audiology Program in the summer of 2022, she joined a program that was itself in transition.

“Everybody still is getting used to new procedures, new policies and the new space,” Benafield said. “The timing of my arrival was kind of nice because I came at the same time that people were learning these new things. I could jump in and learn as well.”

For many years, the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and UAMS jointly administered the Doctor of Audiology and Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders programs, which were housed on the UA-Little Rock campus. The collaboration ended amicably in 2019 with UA-Little Rock retaining the undergraduate program and the three graduate programs, Masters in Speech-Language Pathology, Clinical Doctorate in Audiology, and a research Ph.D., moving to UAMS.

That transition took place in a collaborative environment, but like many academic and non-academic programs, it was complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Classes moved to online instruction, and the Audiology Program along with the Speech-Language Pathology Program moved into new offices, instruction and clinical space in a remodeled UAMS building immediately south of Interstate 630. One of the last transitions was a welcome one for students and faculty, a return to in-person instruction and class sessions.

Benafield said one of her first goals is to make sure the transition back is complete and includes audiology students returning to externships at the clinical sites where they work and train during their second through fourth years of study.

In the near future, Benafield, in conjunction with Dr. Charia Hall, Director of Audiology Clinical Education, also wants to add more clinical sites where students can do their externships. By growing geographically in Arkansas and adding new services, the program can help address gaps in audiology care that are widespread in the state’s rural communities, she said.

Benafield, a native Arkansan, passionately believes the program can help meet some of those unmet needs.

“Arkansas is in my blood and I care a lot about the state,” she said. “I have an interest in providing opportunities to our students to do rural health. If you are from Arkansas, you know how rural the state is. It seems like an overwhelming proposition. When I worked for several years at Arkansas Children’s, I traveled around and provided services in schools. It’s amazing the lack of audiology services in local communities. I am proud of our program for doing a lot about that.”