UAMS Hosts Student National Medical Association Region III Conference

By Linda Satter

It was the first time that the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Medicine, home to the Edith Irby Jones chapter of the national organization, hosted the event. Held in a different city each year, the regional event brings together medical students and pre-med students to learn about opportunities and pathways, hear inspirational speakers, network with members from other states and form long-lasting connections.

The other states in Region III are Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

“These friendships turn into long-lasting relationships, so it’s a very meaningful experience,” said Kayla Jimmerson, a first-year medical student at UAMS who is also pursuing a masters of public health degree and co-chairs the local chapter with Evan Hicks, a third-year medical student.

The SNMA chapter at UAMS is named after Jones, who in 1948 became the first African American student to enroll in an all-white medical school in the South when she started at UAMS.

Pictured left to right: students Raven Hinton and Brittany Montgomery; Sandra Nichols, M.D., student Andria Carter; Gloria Richard-Davis, M.D.; Renisha Ward; and Jade-Michael Matthews.

Pictured left to right: students Raven Hinton, Brittany Montgomery and Kayla Jimmerson; Sandra Nichols, M.D., student Andria Carter; Gloria Richard-Davis, M.D.; Renisha Ward, UAMS director of outreach; and student Jade-Michael Matthews.

Members of the UAMS chapter visit high schools and colleges in the state to expose students to medical school through events such as a recent ultrasound laboratory at Stuttgart High School. The only other SNMA chapter in Arkansas is in Jonesboro.

“This year, our chapter achieved a significant milestone by hosting the Region III conference,” Jimmerson said. “More than 180 people attended, including presenters, and more than 30 exhibitors were featured. We are proud to present lectures from esteemed national leaders that foster collaboration and an exchange of knowledge among medical students from diverse backgrounds.”

The three-day conference began with a Friday evening welcome mixer with food trucks. On Saturday, Sandra Bruce Nichols, M.D., a UAMS graduate and a former director of the Arkansas Department of Health, gave the keynote address on leadership. She also chairs the board of the National Medical Fellowship, a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships and support for underrepresented minority medical students. Her talk received a standing ovation.

Educational breakout sessions, some for students already in medical school and others for pre-med students, covered topics including career development and mental health.

Rhonda Mattox, M.D., president of the Arkansas Medical Dental Pharmacy Association (AMDPA), a veteran Little Rock psychiatrist who is a UAMS graduate, told the pre-med students that she experienced a lot of self-doubt before and during medical school, and that her confidence was further undermined by people who suggested she steer away from medical school and focus instead on nursing or teaching.

The achievements of other African American women from Arkansas, and the respect they emanated when she saw them in person, countered some of that negativity and provided her with inspiration to stay on track, she said, naming author Maya Angelou, who once lived in the house in Stamps where Mattox grew up, and Joycelyn Elders, M.D., a sharecropper’s daughter from Arkansas who became the U.S. surgeon general.

“You just have to put one foot in front of the other, and you have to talk back to those negative thoughts,” said Mattox, who figured that as the daughter of an upholsterer, she even had a head start over Elders.

She stressed that medical school is hard, and said students should determine early on if it’s really the career for them, or they will be miserable.

“Work on your mindset before you get in,” she said. “If it’s not for you, get out before you have $200,000 in debt.”

Mattox also encouraged the audience to seek out professionals for guidance, noting that family friends or relatives often provide misguided advice based on their own outdated experiences.

In addition to the lectures, attendees visited with researchers and physicians who discussed their poster projects, and with representatives of residency programs in the seven-state region.

Among them were three associate professors in the UAMS Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery: Larry Hartzell, M.D., who directs the Cleft Lip and Palate Program at Arkansas Children’s; Adam Johnson, M.D., Ph.D.; and Abby Nolder, M.D., a pediatric otolaryngologist.

Standing behind a table with medical models and literature: Larry Hartzell, M.D.; Adam Johnson, M.D., Ph.D.; and Abby Nolder, M.D., of the UAMS Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery provide information about the department's residency program.

Larry Hartzell, M.D.; Adam Johnson, M.D., Ph.D.; and Abby Nolder, M.D., of the UAMS Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery provide information about the department’s residency program.

They used models of the head and neck to illustrate their work and handed out brochures about the department’s residency program.

The conference wrapped up with a Town Hall-style discussion and the sharing of information about volunteer opportunities.

“It was an overwhelming success, and many pre-med and medical students voiced appreciation for the presentations, discussions, critical conversations and networking opportunities,” said Gloria Richard Davis, M.D., a UAMS professor of gynecology and the executive director of the UAMS Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “The speakers included nationally recognized leaders in their perspective fields with a wealth of information and pearls for our future health care leaders.”