Formalized pathway aims to make it easier for certain graduates seeking medical degrees
FORT SMITH — Graduates from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville wanting to get a medical degree will have a greater chance of being able to continue their studies in the River Valley.
Sam Strasner, director of university relations for ATU, wrote in a Nov. 21 news release the university and the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education in Fort Smith have signed an affiliation agreement.
The agreement formalized a pathway for ATU graduates, who meet grade point average and entrance examination minimums, to be granted an interview for the ACHE program of their choice, according to Strasner. It applies to ACHE’s degree programs in biomedicine, osteopathic medicine, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
John Jackson, dean of the ATU College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, said in the news release although the agreement won’t guarantee graduates will be admitted into ACHE, it will increase their likelihood of being accepted.
“The agreement will also provide greater cooperation between ATU and ACHE with campus visits and student networking opportunities,” Jackson said.
Jackson said Tuesday the agreement will begin in January. He said it provides a connection through which ATU students can interact with ACHE faculty to make sure the institution is where they should continue their medical pathway journey.
Christopher Smith, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at ACHE, said a student looking to go to medical school has to contend with hundreds — or even thousands — of others who are vying for an opportunity to get in front of an admissions committee as part of the application process.
The agreement will provide ATU students an opportunity to showcase their talent and interview with ACHE in regard to their passion for health care and medicine without depriving someone else of such a chance, according to Smith. It also ensures ATU and ACHE will work together to inform ATU faculty and staff about their partnership so they can share that information with students at the university.
Smith said ACHE hopes the ATU students who are admitted into the institution through the agreement — which was signed in October — will stay in the River Valley region after they graduate. He said ACHE knows it’s important for area patients to have a great relationship with their physician. He said when patients know their physician is from — or chose to stay in — the River Valley, it says a lot to the community.
“It speaks volumes to the quality of life here in the River Valley and ensuring that individuals will continue to be here with their families and with their respective community,” Smith said.
“We’re ultimately hoping that — through this partnership, through aspects of our research institute and our outstanding faculty and staff and leadership — that we’re able to help address those health disparities in those rural and underserved communities.”
Jackson said in the news release the agreement is part of a larger “ATU student pathways to medical degrees program” funded through a grant from the Little Rock-based Windgate Foundation.
“We created an advanced pre-health profession certificate in biology that will allow a student from any major to meet course entrance requirements and prepare for entrance examinations needed for advanced degrees in medical fields,” Jackson said.
“We also modified the biology curriculum so that, regardless of option, the first three semesters of course work is the same. This allows greater flexibility for the students and time to decide their educational pathway, be it biomedical, biostatistics, environmental or ecology and evolution. These new opportunities will begin in fall 2024.”
Jackson likewise said Tuesday the hope for the program, and by extension the affiliation agreement, is to provide more health care professionals in Arkansas that may want to live and work in the region.
Another news release Strasner provided from December 2021 announced the Windgate Foundation awarded a $227,900 multiyear grant to ATU. The university would use $107,900 from the grant to help develop curriculum that would create a pathway for ATU graduates to ACHE while the remaining money would go toward continuing two existing programs. This included $90,000 for the ATU artist in residence program and $30,000 for the Windgate Summer Art Launch for Arkansas Educators, a professional development program for K-12 art teachers.
Dr. Christopher Smith (left) speaks with students Cade Winfrey (middle) and Faith Hart (right) on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, at the Arkansas College of Health Education (ACHE) in Fort Smith. Dr. Smith is the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for ACHE. Students and faculty were gathered for the joint birthday and retirement party for ACHEs occupational therapy dog Nibs. Arkansas Tech University (ATU) and the Arkansas College of Health Education have signed an affiliation agreement formalizing a pathway for ATU graduates to continue their studies at ACHE. Graduates who meet grade point average and specified entrance examination minimums will be extended an interview for the ACHE program of their choice. Visit rivervalleydemocratgazette.com/photo for today’s photo gallery. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Caleb Grieger)