Students in UAMS Pathways Academy Gain Exposure to Health Professions

By Chris Carmody

Pathways Academy — part of UAMS’ Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — is an educational and community engagement program that focuses on preparing low-income and underrepresented students from kindergarten through 12th grade for opportunities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health sciences (STEM-H) disciplines.

The Pathways Academy scholars gathered Feb. 18 on the UAMS campus in Little Rock to participate in activities that highlighted careers in medical laboratory science, dental hygiene, audiology and respiratory care.

James Ento, a sophomore at Pine Bluff High School, said students don’t need to have medical-school aspirations to benefit from these networking and learning opportunities.

Nicholas Tidwell, a junior at eStem High School in Little Rock, tests an airway-clearance machine by wearing a vibrating vest that breaks up mucus in patients' lungs.

Nicholas Tidwell, a junior at eStem High School in Little Rock, tests an airway-clearance machine. The vibrating vest breaks up mucus in patients’ lungs.

“Experiences like this open a lot of new connections, even if you don’t want to pursue these careers in the future,” he said.

At the respiratory care station, scholars practiced intubation and extubation on infant manikins. They also tested an airway-clearance machine, which features a vibrating vest that breaks up mucus in patients’ lungs.

Nicholas Tidwell, a junior at eStem High School in Little Rock, said the machine left him feeling as if someone were lightly and repeatedly tapping on his chest. “It’s a really weird feeling, but it’s kind of fun to see how it helps people,” he said.

Tom Jones, M.Ed., RRT, program director and assistant professor in the college, told the students that registered respiratory therapists work with doctors and nurses at the bedside of every patient, sometimes going unnoticed but always performing a vital role.

“If you want a career where you can make an immediate difference, then this might be a good place for you,” he said. “If you can’t breathe, then nothing else matters.”

Richard Robinson, RDH, a UAMS alumnus and dental hygienist at Arkansas Family Dental, guided scholars through a demonstration of the proper way to use plaque-removal tools. As the students practiced their technique on dental molds, Robinson encouraged them to choose their careers based on their interests instead of on their starting salaries.

“Find what you want to do, be passionate about it, and be the best at it,” he said.

Pathways Academy scholars practice with plaque-removal tools at the dental hygiene station.

Pathways Academy scholars practice with plaque-removal tools at the dental hygiene station.

Remeia Smothers, a junior at Pine Bluff High, said the lesson had raised her interest in the field of dental hygiene. “There’s so much more to the medical field than just the doctors and nurses,” she said.

Cherika Robertson, M.Ed., MLS, assistant professor in the college’s Department of Laboratory Sciences, talked to the students about careers in medical laboratory science and led them in a simulation that showed the role of urinalysis in diagnosing patients.

“We’re often the first to know the diagnosis, but we may not ever see the patient,” she said.

In the audiology lesson, students learned about different types of hearing loss, tested the efficacy of hearing aids and viewed a demonstration of how ear molds are made.

Phyllis Fields, M.Ed., associate dean for student affairs in the college, said she is excited about the Pathways Academy program and its potential to open new possibilities for its scholars.

“I think today’s event was a great opportunity for the scholars to learn more about some of the rewarding careers they can find in the health care field,” she said.

Pathways Academy launched in 2022 with a series of summer camps that provided hands-on experiences in science, engineering and healthy living. Students have continued to take part in the program during the academic year, meeting for Saturday sessions that provide exposure to different health care careers. At a recent event, scholars discussed career opportunities with staff members and students from the UAMS College of Pharmacy.

Taylor Bagby, a junior at Watson Chapel High School in Pine Bluff, said the program has given her a better understanding of the options available for those who pursue careers in the medical field.

“We’ve had a lot of speakers who informed us about different career paths,” she said. “I think that is really helpful, giving us different options and keeping us open-minded. I don’t feel like I’m closed off to one field.”

Deriyon Graydon, a sophomore at Pine Bluff High, said he’s enjoyed seeing how medical professionals with different specialties can come together with the shared goal of improving their patients’ health.

“I asked most of the speakers today about what led them to their specific fields,” he said. “Everybody said they’re here because they like to help others. That makes a big difference, and I’m just thankful for the opportunity to learn all these aspects that I wouldn’t have learned if I weren’t in this program.”