UAMS History

Humble Beginnings

Just a few weeks before Thomas Edison invented the first light bulb in October 1879, eight physicians pooled their money and invested $5,000 to start the first medical school in Arkansas. The eight founding physicians were led by Dr. P. O. Hooper of Little Rock, and the street where many patients and visitors now enter the UAMS campus is named in his honor.

The initial investment of $625 made by each of the founding physicians now represents nearly $4 billion in economic impact for the state of Arkansas from UAMS and its affiliates every year.

The former Sperindo Restaurant and Hotel in downtown Little Rock served as the first home for what was then known as the Medical Department of Arkansas Industrial University. As enrollment grew into the 20th century, the school was housed in several different locations, including the Old State House in downtown Little Rock. A new medical school was built in the 1930s with funding provided by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration. Additional funding was provided by a tax on beer and liquor assessed by the Arkansas state legislature.

Public Support

In 1951, Governor Sid McMath used funds from a new cigarette tax to secure $7.4 million for a new University Hospital on a 26-acre site on West Markham Street in what was then the outskirts of Little Rock. The University of Arkansas Medical Center moved into the new hospital in 1956. Air conditioning came to patients’ rooms 10 years later.

UAMS was transformed from a small medical school with a charity hospital into an academic health center and research leader under the direction of Dr. Harry P. Ward, who served as chancellor from 1979 to 2000. The Harry P. Ward Tower, which opened in 1997, is named in his honor. Dr. Ward was succeeded as chancellor by Dr. I. Dodd Wilson in 2000.

Building on the foundation laid by Dr. Ward, Dr. Wilson began the most ambitious building program in the institution’s history. This round of expansion included nearly $500 million in building projects begun in 2001 to provide additional space for education, patient care, research and outreach programs.

Among the projects was an education building opened in 2008 that the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees named the I. Dodd Wilson Education Building in honor of Wilson, who retired in late 2009. Wilson was succeeded by Dr. Dan Rahn.

In early 2009, UAMS opened a new hospital, a 540,000-square-foot facility with 234 adult beds (since expanded to 346 adult beds) and 64 neonatal beds. This facility enables UAMS to create comfort, hope and healing for more patients and families than ever before. Also in 2009, in response to a nationwide shortage of health care professionals, UAMS opened Northwest Regional Campus in Fayetteville to help produce more physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals.

In addition to its state-of-the art hospital and outpatient center, which serves as the center of the institution’s now 84-acre campus, UAMS is home to the Colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions, Public Health and a Graduate School with growing enrollment of 2,870 students and 799 resident physicians.

Advanced Institutes

The Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute serves as the official cancer research and treatment institution in Arkansas. The Cancer Institute was founded as the Arkansas Cancer Research Center in 1984 and renamed to honor the late lieutenant governor of Arkansas in 2007. A 12-floor expansion opened in 2010. The Cancer Institute has more than 130,000 patient visits per year.

The Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute was founded in 1994 and houses the Department of Ophthalmology and the Pat & Willard Walker Eye Research Center. Through a nationwide network, the Arkansas Lions Eye Bank & Laboratory at UAMS provides the gift of sight to more than 400 patients each year.

The UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute, adjacent to the main hospital, opened in 2009 and combines psychiatric research and education with inpatient and outpatient care as one of the most innovative psychiatric treatment and research facilities in the nation.

The Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute at UAMS is a center for research, education and clinical care related to the spine and features an expansive physical therapy room with special equipment that can measure minute improvements in patients’ progress and a wheelchair-accessible swimming pool designed for water therapy.

The Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, home to the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Geriatrics, is one of the most recognized geriatric centers in the nation. The department was established in 1997 and by 2003 was listed in the top 10 geriatrics programs in medical schools by U.S. News and World Report. The Institute on Aging in 2012 opened a four-floor, 55,000-square-foot expansion, bringing the institute to eight floors. Two months earlier the institute dedicated a 396-foot pedestrian bridge connecting the Reynolds Institute with the nearby Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute.

In 2011, UAMS established the Translational Research Institute for stimulating cooperative research that accelerates translation and application of scientific discoveries into clinical and community settings.

Expanding Clinical Care

In 2012, UAMS expanded clinical care by adding a new Radiation Oncology Center, a component of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute; partnering with Arkansas Children’s Hospital in opening the Centers for Children in Jonesboro; and opening the student-led 12th Street Health and Wellness Center, which provides free health screenings and health information to the minority community in the surrounding Little Rock neighborhood. UAMS also opened a west Little Rock clinic in 2012 that includes a sleep lab.

In 2013, UAMS continued a long tradition of establishing programs that meet changing health care workforce needs when it introduced the doctorate of nursing practice degree, the master’s-level physician assistant, and the state’s first bachelor’s degree in emergency medical sciences.

In 2014, UAMS opened the Neighborhood Clinic at Rahling Road, providing primary and specialty care to residents of one of the city’s fastest growing areas. UAMS also launched its primary care service line in 2014, an organizational arrangement intended to offer better coordination of patient-centered services. A multidisciplinary Adult Sickle Cell Clinic and a multidisciplinary Adult Spina Bifida Clinic — both firsts for the state — were opened in 2014, as was a comprehensive rehabilitation clinic in northwest Arkansas, improving access to physical, occupational and speech rehabilitative services.

Enrollment at UAMS’ Northwest Regional Campus reached 206 in 2014, including students in the colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing and Health Professions, in addition to hosting 32 family medicine resident physicians.

Today UAMS has programs operating in all 75 counties in the state, including eight UAMS Regional Centers, seven regional Centers on Aging and one of the most successful Head Start programs in the nation.

Throughout all its advances and growth as Arkansas’ only academic medical center, UAMS has remained committed to promoting a better state of health.

Buildings Completed and Expanded:

1955 University Hospital
1957 Education I Building (later renamed Winston K. Shorey Building)
1959 Dormitory/Student Union
1960 Barton Research Center
1969 Child Study Center
1970 Computing Center
1972 Nuclear Medicine
1973 Computer Services Building
1974 Annex Building-Administrative Support
1977 Education II Building
1977 Paint Shop
1977 Psychiatry Clinic
1979 Ambulatory Care Center
1982 Parking Deck (800 spaces)
1984 Physical Plant
1986 Family Medical Center
1986 Geriatrics Clinic
1986 Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility
1987 Cancer Institute Fourth Floor
1987 NMR Biomedical Facility
1988 Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic
1988 Computing Services (Renovation)
1988 Westmark Building
1989 Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute (originally Arkansas Cancer Research Center)
1989 Outpatient Diagnostic Center
1990 Mediplex Apartments
1993 Biomedical Research Center
1993 Parking Deck Expansion to 1,850 spaces
1994 Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute
1995 Education III Building
1996 Cancer Institute adds four floors to Walker Tower
1996 Ambulatory Care (Outpatient) Center expansion
1996 Central Receiving and Re-Distribution Warehouse
1996 Clinical Lab expansion
1996 Boiler House expansion
1997 Ward Tower
1999 Outpatient Parking Deck
2000 Reynolds Center on Aging
2000 UAMS/CARTI building
2003 Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute
2003 College of Public Health building
2003 BioVentures building
2003 Biomedical Research Center II
2005 PET building
2006 Jones Eye Institute expansion
2006 Residence Hall
2007 Central Energy Plant
2008 Parking Deck
2008 Psychiatric Research Institute
2009 540,000-square-foot Hospital
2010 Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute expansion
2011 Simulation Center
2012 Radiation Oncology Center
2012 Expansion to Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging
2012 12th Street Health and Wellness Center
2012 Financial Centre Parkway Clinic in West Little Rock
2014 Dolores Bruce Memorial Fountain
2014 Neighborhood Clinic at Rahling Road
2014 UAMS Northwest Outpatient Therapy Clinic
2015 Neighborhood Clinic in Maumelle, Ark.
2016 Neighborhood Clinic at Capitol Mall