View Larger Image The year of 2022 was one of transition from COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and the Omicron surge in case numbers to, by the fall, in-person classes for students, public events and an easing of safety protocols.
By Ben Boulden
| Two years of battling the pandemic and its effects resulted in a 2022 that was the closest yet to a pre-COVID normal at UAMS.
The university never faltered in its devotion to its missions. UAMS seized the opportunity the year brought to renew its focus on them in a way that earned it praise and recognition.
U.S. News & World Report in April recognized the UAMS colleges of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health on its latest Best Graduate Schools lists.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s readers voted UAMS as the Best Company to Work For among organizations with more than 250 employees.
INSIGHT into Diversity magazine selected the university for its Health Professions Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award. The national award recognizes health colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. UAMS received the additional honor of being named a “Diversity Champion,” having scored in the top tier of all HEED Award winners.
Readers of Arkansas Money & Politics voted UAMS as an “AMP Best of 2022” in three categories: Diverse Workplace, Health Care Provider and Hospital. There are three “Best” winners in each category.
Those general achievements and recognitions were complemented by similar kudos earned in patient care.
- Healthgrades ranked UAMS among the top 10% of hospitals nationwide for cranial neurosurgery. Healthgrades, a leading resource that connects consumers, physicians and health systems, awarded the university a 2022 Cranial Neurosurgery Excellence Award, which recognizes hospitals with superior clinical outcomes in brain surgery.
- The Radiation Oncology Center at UAMS in January received the highest national accreditation from the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO). The center, which is part of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, is the only radiation oncology center in the state to be granted full accreditation by the Society’s ASTRO Accreditation Program for Excellence (APEx®).
- The Cancer Institute also implemented a new statewide patient navigation program to help cancer patients across the state access needed prevention, screening, treatment and support services. The program serves all Arkansans regardless of provider.
- COVID-19 highlighted numerous disparities in health care, and UAMS wasted no time or effort in addressing them. It received a five-year, $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to improve maternal health care in Arkansas. The funding will help increase access to maternal and obstetrics care in rural communities and assist in tackling inequities in maternal health.
- Another federal grant of $1.8 million was announced in October to fund an effort by UAMS researchers to help close wide gaps in trauma patient outcomes across the United States by harnessing new data to help trauma center leaders improve outcomes.
- Susan D. Emmett, M.D., MPH, an otolaryngologist and public health-trained researcher who holds four grants from the National Institutes of Health, in June joined the UAMS, where she will lead the new Center for Hearing Health Equity.
- In the summer and early fall, several initiatives at UAMS worked to address the issue of food insecurity among many Arkansans. The university joined with 24 community partners in Northwest Arkansas to help break down barriers that prevent equitable access to food. UAMS researchers also sought to better define the problem and linking food insecurity to job loss and illness. They found in study results published in May that schools providing breakfast after the school day begins (Breakfast After the Bell) experienced a decrease in student behavior issues.
- Several notable ‘firsts’ also were achieved. Subhi Al’Aref, M.D., a UAMS cardiologist, in April became the first physician in Arkansas to use a new device to remove infectious vegetation from a woman’s heart valve in a 45-minute minimally invasive procedure. The first patient to receive a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) through the new Heart Restoration Program at the university was discharged in May after a successful procedure Feb. 28.
- A liver transplant performed Oct. 1 at UAMS was the first in the state to use groundbreaking technology that preserves donor livers and keeps them viable for an extended period of time. The Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients in February again ranked the university’s kidney and liver transplant programs among the top in the nation.
- UAMS became in May the first hospital in Arkansas to offer Omniscient Neurotechnology’s Quicktome, an FDA-cleared platform that allows surgeons to visualize a patient’s unique brain networks before life-changing surgery.
- The UAMS Movement Disorders Clinic in July was designated a Comprehensive Care Center by the Parkinson’s Foundation Global Care Network for providing outstanding care to Parkinson’s disease patients. The Huntington’s Disease Society of America in May designated UAMS Health a Center of Excellence for the treatment of Huntington’s Disease for the second year in a row.
- Completion of a $65 million expanded UAMS Radiation Oncology Center that will house Arkansas’ first Proton Center marked an important milestone Oct. 20 with the arrival and installation of the Proton Center’s cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator that serves as a key piece of equipment. The Proton Center of Arkansas will offer an advanced form of radiation treatment that uses precisely focused protons to target tumors, rather than photons used in standard X-ray radiation.
While great progress has been made in combating COVID-19, much remains to be discovered and understood about the disease. UAMS has not pulled back in its quest to answer questions about it.
- The university will use a $7.9 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant announced in October to expand its infectious disease research capacity and establish a Pandemic Response and Public Health Laboratory by renovating existing research space.
- A research team at UAMS in January found that while the coronavirus can create dangerous variants like delta and omicron, its ability to mutate has limits that should help drug and vaccine makers trying to thwart it.
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, most Arkansans wore masks and washed their hands regularly to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, fewer Arkansans limited social interactions, according to . The study was published in May.
- Researchers at the UAMS Office of Community Health & Research also in May found that Black Arkansans who reported racial discrimination in the criminal justice system experienced higher levels of hesitancy toward COVID-19 vaccines.
- Other research teams garnered several federal grants to support their work, including a four-year, $2.4 million grant to study genetic systems of the bacterium that causes tick-borne relapsing fever to better understand their molecular functions and reveal possible drug targets; a five-year, $3.4 million grant in funding to study acute and delayed injuries caused by full-body radiation exposure from a nuclear accident or bioterrorism; a three-year, $3.2 million grant to conduct the final phase of study of the first rapid diagnostic test for acetaminophen toxicity; and a five-year, $2.54 million grant to test when exposure to inorganic arsenic — a common, harmful environmental toxin — is most likely to lead to infertility traits that may last for generations.
- Three grants in six months from the National Institutes of Health are helping UAMS researcher Hari Eswaran, Ph.D., explore promising noninvasive methods for diagnosing serious fetal health conditions. The grants total $4.4 million and support his pioneering work with sensor arrays that can reveal important functional details of fetal development in the later stages of pregnancy. The NIH grants are just part of Eswaran’s externally supported research, which totals $12.8 million in active funding.
- All those accomplishments as well as an historical record of similar ones at UAMS has had a positive effect well beyond the university’s own research community. Findings from a Stanford University study of research communities placed more than 50 UAMS faulty members among the top 2% of influential researchers.
With the vast majority of students vaccinated against COVID-19, students returned in much greater numbers to in-person classes in the fall semester. Achievements and recognitions rolled in too.
- UAMS early in 2022 became the only institution in Arkansas and among the first in the country to gain national accreditation of its Clinical Informatics Fellowship Program for physicians.
- A new class of nursing students in July started experiencing real-world scenarios in a new simulation center on the Fayetteville campus. All UAMS students in Northwest Arkansas will eventually use the center.
- A team of student pharmacists from the College of Pharmacy in October was named the winner of the 19th annual National Community Pharmacy Association’s (NCPA) Good Neighbor Pharmacy Pruitt-Schutte Student Business Plan Competition. With this year’s win at nationals, the college became the first to win three consecutive competitions. No college has won the competition more times than the College of Pharmacy, which won in 2012, 2015 and 2017 in addition to the last three years.
- UAMS in July began hosting colorectal surgeons to demonstrate robotic surgery in action, as one of 15 designated da Vinci Observation Epicenters nationwide. UAMS is the only hospital in Arkansas designated as an Epicenter.
- The UAMS College of Medicine’s Match Day ceremony in March marked a return to normalcy for seniors who have spent the last two years of medical school largely avoiding crowds, and each other, to comply with pandemic-driven social distancing requirements. In a switch back to the live ceremonies of earlier years, albeit with masks to comply with UAMS policy, most of the Class of 2022 gathered at Heifer International headquarters in Little Rock, and 157 of 158 of them matched with residency programs and one obtained a research position.
- Those matching students were concluding their postgraduate educations, but by September, UAMS started on construction of a building that will help very young students begin their journeys in learning. The university broke ground on a nearly $10 million Child Development Center on a four-acre property. With an expected opening in spring 2024, the approximately 20,000-square-foot center will be built at the intersection of 11th and Monroe streets near the Little Rock campus.