September 24, 2014

Diversity Awards, UAMS Center Highlight Successes

As part of annual Diversity Month activities, three Team UAMS members were recognized with awards, while UAMS leaders reported on successes in promoting inclusiveness, cultural competence and increasing the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The UAMS Diversity and Inclusion Awards were presented to a faculty member, staff member and student who contributed to diversity. This was the second year for the awards, which accepted nominations from peers and colleagues.

Award recipients were:

  • Lanita White, Pharm.D., director of the UAMS 12th Street Health and Wellness Center, a studeToan V. Bui, Lanita White and Venusa Phomakay were recipients of the UAMS Diversity and Inclusion Awards. nt-led clinic providing screenings and health information to residents in the 12th Street neighborhood area of Little Rock, received the faculty award. One nomination called White “a cheerleader and a role model” with “the rare gift of motivating and persuading others to do things they aren’t even aware are possible at the time” — by organizing students, faculty and community members for delivery of services at the 12th Street center.
  • Toan V. Bui, clinical programs education instructional development specialist received the staff ward. One nomination pointed to Bui showing an interest in the needs of others through his work and in sharing his personal and professional experiences during UAMS Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
  • Venusa Phomakay, a third-year medical student received the student award and  was recognized in a nomination as an “example of humility and humanity” who finds time to lead a prayer lunch group for students and was chosen by her class for the White Coat Award, recognizing personal integrity and leadership.

Billy Thomas, M.D., vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, noted that the faculty and staff recipients each received more than one nomination.

UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., kicked off the event reinforcing the importance of diversity efforts to the success of the UAMS mission of health improvement. He related it to the challenge of health disparities — preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations defined by factors including race, geography, education and sexual orientation.

“The incidence of illness in Arkansas is not evenly distributed. It’s not a natural phenomenon, it’s a social phenomenon,” Rahn said. “At UAMS, we can provide leadership and focus on what unites us rather than what divides us as part of our mission of improving health in Arkansas.”

Thomas, also director of the UAMS Center for Diversity Affairs, highlighted accomplishments along with areas of focus for the center. The center is actively engaged through programs and educational efforts to increase the number of UAMS students, faculty and staff from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds but also to ensure UAMS produces graduates prepared to deliver patient-focused, culturally competent care.

“We need to move beyond race as the main indicator of diversity. There are  multiple  factors — gender, sexual orientation, geography, disabilities and individual differences that must be considered as we promote and embrace diversity.” Thomas said.

The center’s areas of focus the past year include campus climate, patient care, recruitment/retention, education, human resources, research, institutional data and community engagement. Thomas cited high student participation across all UAMS colleges in the 12th Street Center as a prime example of community engagement that reaches many from disadvantaged populations with health and wellness screenings and information.

Among the programs sponsored or supported by the center are summer activities aimed at students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Thomas reported those programs reached more than 200 students in the past year with exposure to math and science as well as possible careers in health care.

Undergraduate students can participate in research opportunities or test prep programs that target students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The programs also seek to identify students interested in health care careers. Another 50 plus students participated in these programs, which have seen several accepted to medical school through the years, Thomas said.

“We are making progress but there are always many other areas we need to move forward on,” Thomas said.