Nov. 2, 2017 | Billy Thomas, M.D., M.P.H. has worked for decades to strengthen diversity and inclusion on the UAMS campus. He was recently honored for some of his work, specifically with Hispanic students, with the La Esperanza Award from the central Arkansas chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens’ (LULAC).
La Esperanza, or “The Hope,” Award is given annually to an ally of the Hispanic community in central Arkansas for actions and advocacy that contribute to the well-being of the Hispanic community. Thomas, who is vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion and director of the UAMS Center for Diversity Affairs joins past award winners including state Sen. Joyce Elliot, former University of Arkansas at Little Rock Chancellor Joel Anderson and former Little Rock School District Superintendent Baker Kurrus.
“Dr. Thomas meets every criteria we have for this award,” said Terry Trevino-Richard, president of the local LULAC chapter. “He’s a prominent individual at UAMS and has been instrumental in helping Latino students develop professional careers in health care. We appreciate the support and assistance Dr. Thomas has provided LULAC for so many years.”
UAMS and the Center for Diversity Affairs have worked and partnered with LULAC for several years, including the last few years by offering tuition waivers to match LULAC scholarships given to UAMS students.
“It shows the students that UAMS is invested in them,” said Thomas. “We hope it shows the students UAMS wants them to succeed and is here to help.”
Just this year, UAMS began a LULAC student group.
“Student groups help a great deal on campus,” said Thomas. “As with other groups on campus, it helps students avoid the isolation many are prone to feel. There are also issues that are unique to groups of students from different races, ethnicities and backgrounds and groups like these help students have a voice on campus.”
Thomas said he was honored to be recognized by a group like LULAC that does so much in the community.
“The Hispanic population is one that is growing, has been marginalized and is underserved and LULAC does tremendous work to bring those issues to the forefront,” said Thomas. “It was certainly an honor to receive this award and be recognized as an ally.”
Thomas, a board-certified neonatologist at UAMS for nearly three decades, was named the first vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion at UAMS in 2011. He earned his medical degree at UAMS and completed his residency in pediatrics in 1983.
In 2004, he was appointed associate dean for diversity in the College of Medicine after serving as assistant dean since 1996. In 2008, UAMS established the Center for Diversity Affairs and Thomas was named assistant vice chancellor for diversity.
“Our overall mission is to increase the number of minority students who go into health care professions as it will help our state’s diverse population be better represented and translate into better health care,” said Thomas.