UAMS Hematology Oncology Fellowship Applications Hit All-Time High

By Marty Trieschmann

“It’s quite competitive,” said Kostas Arnaoutakis, M.D., UAMS thoracic medical oncologist and director of the fellowship program for the past three years. “All of the applicants are very qualified with excellent grades, training and a lot of dedication to the field.

“It’s a very difficult choice,” he says of selecting new fellows from an increasingly large pool of highly qualified candidates.

Heightened interest in the program is a good sign given the predicted oncology physician shortage and increase in patient care needs. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the growing demand for hematology and medical oncology services could outpace the addition of new doctors entering the field. This increasing demand is largely driven by the aging and retirement of oncologists and improvement in cancer survival rates.

“We know that several million Americans are without a cancer specialist nearby,” said Arnaoutakis.

“Well designed, quality fellowship programs that train and prepare physicians to care for the next generation of cancer patients are more important than ever,” said Arnaoutakis. “We have dedicated significant effort to developing our program and remain committed to enhancing our educational initiatives in order to establish a world-class program.”

The three-year program currently has 13 board-certified physicians in training and can now enroll up to five fellows in each of the three years of training for a total of 15. New first-year fellows begin the program July 1. Antoinette King serves as the program’s coordinator.

In 2023, the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute provided funding to add a fifth fellowship position.

Dr. Kostas Arnaoutakis

Kostas Arnaoutakis, M.D., is director of the UAMS Hematology Oncology Fellowship ProgramBryan Clifton

“The program offers comprehensive training for physicians to proficiently evaluate, diagnose and manage adult patients with solid tumor cancers and hematological cancers,” said Arnaoutakis. “This encompasses diverse conditions such as breast cancer, colon cancer, leukemia, lung cancer, lymphomas and other less common cancers. The fellows also develop expertise in managing benign hematological conditions such as sickle cell disease and various types of anemias.”

“As the state’s only academic medical center, our fellows will see rare pathologies that fellows don’t get to see in a smaller program,” said Arnaoutakis who joined UAMS in 2009.

Fellows work with more than 25 UAMS faculty during their training with rotations in medical oncology, hematology, radiation oncology, bone marrow transplant, pathology, palliative medicine and mentored research. They acquire hands-on experience in advanced treatments, including cutting-edge therapies like CAR-T-cell treatments. They enhance their clinical skills working with experienced physicians at various locations, including the UAMS Medical Center, Arkansas Children’s, Baptist Health in North Little Rock and the Central Arkansas Veteran’s Healthcare System.

The program also offers unique hematopathology exposure with training in morphology, cytogenetics and molecular diagnosis related to leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

“We have a wide variety of pathology and research opportunities throughout UAMS and the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute,” said program manager Jenny Thiltgen. “Our fellows become master clinicians in hematology and oncology and are well prepared for an academic career in this exciting field of medicine.”

“The training is pretty intense the first two years as they rotate in different subspecialities, work with different faculty, participate in didactics, work on research projects and take calls. At the end, they are able to function at a high level,” said Arnaoutakis.

The program boasts a 100% first-time board pass rate, and many graduates stay in Arkansas to work in private practice or at UAMS. Several graduates proudly represent UAMS in other states and academic institutions.

“Many oncologists in Arkansas have graduated from our program,” said Arnaoutakis.

Arnaoutakis hopes the program will continue its upward trajectory as the division and the Cancer Institute grows by adding more fellowship positions and expanding research opportunities. He also says more graduates will stay in the state if the opportunities are there.

UAMS is the only hematology oncology fellowship program in Arkansas and one of 172 accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. UAMS began training physicians in hematology oncology in the 1960s.