LITTLE ROCK — The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) received a five-year, $3.25 million federal grant to support the creation of a program that will help students from 20 underserved counties in the Arkansas Delta and southern part of the state pursue careers in health care.

The Arkansas Delta Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP) Academy will recruit and assist students from disadvantaged or underrepresented backgrounds as they enter the educational pipeline, complete health professions programs and enter the health career workforce in their communities. Academy programs will serve high school juniors and seniors, undergraduate students, and adult and nontraditional learners.

The federal grant was awarded through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Arkansas is among the least healthy states in the nation, ranking 48th in a 2022 report by the United Health Foundation, a not-for-profit organization established by the UnitedHealth Group. This problem is more pronounced in the Arkansas Delta, where residents are disproportionately affected by medical conditions such as heart disease, cancer, strokes, obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

Chronic and pervasive gaps in the health care workforce are a significant factor, said Brian Gittens, Ed.D., MPA, vice chancellor of the UAMS Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

 Academy programs will focus on expanding the workforce in a variety of health care disciplines, including sonography, dietetics, health administration, medical lab technology, mental and behavioral health, occupational and physical therapy, physician assistant studies, public health, radiography, and respiratory therapy.

“UAMS is excited to establish the HCOP Academy, which represents another step in our mission to provide equitable health care to all Arkansans,” said Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, the chancellor of UAMS and CEO of UAMS Health.

The HCOP Academy will be led by the UAMS Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in collaboration with UAMS Regional Campuses. Other partners in the project include the UAMS College of Health Professions; the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health; the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership, a consortium of community-based rural hospitals; and high schools, colleges and universities in the 20 counties.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) is among the partner institutions. UAPB Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander, J.D., Ph.D., noted the program’s importance for aspiring health professionals.

“Our partnership with UAMS for the HCOP Academy provides a great pathway for students from the Arkansas Delta to prepare for health care careers and join the medical workforce without leaving their home region,” he said.

The program will serve the following counties: Arkansas, Ashley, Bradley, Calhoun, Chicot, Cleveland, Columbia, Crittenden, Dallas, Desha, Drew, Jefferson, Lee, Lincoln, Monroe, Ouachita, Phillips, Sevier, St. Francis and Union.