Kyle Parker - ARCOM's students will contribute to the entire city's culture.
Heart rates were elevated in excitement when the historic first class of students met the equally new full faculty and administrators of the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine. Classes officially began Aug. 15, preceded by a July 31 orientation assembly and celebration.
Very much like a proud new parent, Kyle D. Parker, president and CEO of the brand-new medical school, tore himself away from fondly watching students on the semester’s first Friday afternoon to exuberantly talk about them in a wide-ranging interview. He enthusiastically described the outstanding students and the birth story of this first new institution of higher learning in Fort Smith’s Chaffee Crossing area.
As significant as is this milestone opening, ARCOM is only the first college of a system already in development by the parent Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, of which Parker is also CEO. He serves with a Board of Trustees resolved to immediately expand the new 102,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility in order to establish a second institution, Arkansas College of Health Sciences, which will provide a degree program for physician assistants and a master of nursing program.
ACHE also plans future academic programs in other health therapies, to fulfill its mission “to educate and train a diverse group of highly competent and compassionate health care professionals, to create health support facilities, and to provide a healthy living environment that improves the lives of others.”
ACHE is dedicated to serving those who are medically “under-served,” particularly in Arkansas and Oklahoma where there is a shortage in the number of physicians. Sparks Medical Center, Mercy Hospital Fort Smith and the entire local medical community are supportive of ARCOM.
Students, staff and faculty are now the newest citizens in the neighborhoods of Chaffee Crossing, enriching the rising community at the eastern edge of Fort Smith.
The daily presence of 162 students and more than 50 other people of the faculty, staff and administration is arguably a tipping point in the evolution of Chaffee Crossing into a diversely populated community within Fort Smith. To Parker, these individuals are priceless, living assets, more powerful than dollars, now invested into the future of Fort Smith and of Arkansas and Oklahoma. At last, ARCOM?can introduce them to the public,through ongoing tours and celebrations related to the school’s opening.
“A citizen, an invited guest, was here, meeting our students,” Parker explained. “He came over to me and said, ‘so, only the top one percent of pre-med students get into medical school, right?’ And I said yes – and next year we’re going to have 300; the year after, 450; then 600 students. And then we’ll open our new facility and have 600 students.”
“The visitor said, ‘This is really going to make a difference, isn’t it?,’”?Parker went on. “Because of who this person was, it shocked me. That person has been here all along, ”?he said. “They’d been out there saying rah rah! go go! all this time, and then – it hit them. And I realized people can’t see what they don’t see.”
Now, meeting students live and in person, he thinks locals will agree that their presence is, as he says, “a paradigm shift” for Fort Smith.
Parker’s prediction that the people of the college will make a significant, positive effect on this city is backed with evidence – he’s met them. An academic selection panel, plus a panel of local residents, interviewed candidates. The purpose of adding “civilians” to the selection process, he said, is to fulfill ARCOM’s intent to graduate “physicians who care” and who, hopefully, will remain and practice in this region.
“We had the community interview them before the academic selection committee. No other med school in the U.S. does that. They don’t ask a single question about their GPA or MCAT scores. We already knew those. It’s ‘who are you? Where are you from? Where do you plan to be in your lifetime? Tell me about you, the person. Do you fit the profile of people who truly care?’”
Arkansas citizens, statistically, are under-served in access to general practice doctors, some specialists and in some areas, to medical facilities. Arkansas is ranked highly for some categories of physician’s salaries, but lower on average for all physicians, nationally.
ARCOM is deliberately creating a culture shaped to interest its students in practicing in this region after completing their required residency period in Arkansas and Oklahoma medical facilities.
“If you ever come and stay in this area, you’ll fall in love with this and want this lifestyle,” said Parker, a Fort Smith native who himself chose to live here although he attended law school in another state and, after founding and selling a technology-based company, could have lived anywhere in the country.
Color Parker a true believer in Fort Smith, in the city’s expansion into Chaffee Crossing and in this two-state region. The same goes for his board, plus the academics and professionals who helped launch and will teach and work at ARCOM. They all hope to engage students with their own passion for healthcare and this region.
Everyone who has met even a few of the 162 new students is convinced that the students will spark a cultural uplift while they live and study here, he said.
“These are young generation millennials who are asking, demanding, additional culture to be here. One of our students, who has three boys, has now moved into this area. An instructor moved their entire family, including their parents into here,”?he said. “Their expectations for excellence in education will go through the roof! That bleeds itself into all walks of life and improves everyone. And that to me is a very exciting thing for Fort Smith.”
ACHE’s master plan included the construction of The Residents, upscale apartments on campus which were the housing choice for some, but not all, of the current students.
The “incredible gift” as Parker describes it, of 200 acres of land granted by the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority will be built out adajcent to the ARCOM building as a planned mixed-use campus neighborhood of single and multi-family homes with restaurants and retail services.
The professional planning team for this near-future community included designers of Seaside, Fla. During the process of obtaining city and FCRA approvals, Parker lobbied avidly to gain acceptance of some very contemporary ideas and practices, all meant to create denser, walkable neighborhoods with front-porch ambiance. These planning styles mesh with and extend contemporary trends of including trails, dog parks and greenspace now being created, by design, by other residential and commercial developers within their own Chaffee Crossing projects.
Parker praises the FCRA and municipal Fort Smith authorities who cooperatively take part in development. Those and other state agencies assisted in ARCOM’s birth, he noted, pointing out that the flexibility of building at Chaffee Crossing and the free exchange of fresh ideas with other developers is encouraging.
Parker is clearly as excited about building a vibrant community for the people of the new college, and for Fort Smith, as he is about the future physicians being educated there.
This article appears in the September 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.