History 2017-01-28T09:42:03-05:00

UAMS History

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 more than $5 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.

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 125 years of growth. 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 and 60 neonatal beds. This facility enables the people of UAMS to create comfort, hope and healing for more patients and families than ever before.

The new hospital and the adjoining Psychiatric Research Institute will serve as the center of the institution’s now 84-acre campus. Also in 2009, in response to a nationwide shortage of health care professionals, UAMS opened a northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville to help produce more physicians, nurses, pharmacist and other health care professionals.

In addition to its state-of-the art hospital and outpatient center, UAMS is home to the: Colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions, Public Health and a Graduate School with growing enrollment that included 2,775 students and 748 resident physicians.

The Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, which 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 number of patient visits to the Cancer Institute has tripled in the past 10 years, and today one-third of the revenue generated by UAMS is from Cancer Institute patient care.

The Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy at UAMS is part of the Cancer Institute and has performed more blood stem cell transplants for myeloma than any other facility in the world. Each year, the Myeloma Institute evaluates about 600 new patients. Seventy percent of these patients are from outside of Arkansas, coming to UAMS from all over the United States and from abroad. On any given day, there are about 200 myeloma patients staying in Little Rock for diagnosis and treatment of their disease.

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 Eye Bank provides the gift of sight to more than 600 patients each year.

The UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute is one of only nine institutions in the country to combine psychiatric research and education with inpatient and outpatient care and is 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 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 Donald W. Reynolds 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 accelerated translation and application of scientific discoveries into clinical and community settings.

In 2012, UAMS opened its new Radiation Oncology Center, a component of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, to be the exclusive provider of radiation oncology services on its campus for adult and pediatric patients.

Today UAMS has outreach programs operating in every county of the state, including eight UAMS regional centers, eight regional Centers on Aging and one of the most successful Head Start programs in the nation.

UAMS is where medicine — and excellence — live.