Kenneth Heiles Named Dean of Proposed Fort Smith Osteopathic Medical School

The proposed osteopathic medical school at Chaffee Crossing in Fort Smith now has a dean.

Dr. Kenneth A. Heiles, on Wednesday, was named dean of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education and the proposed Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Smith.

Kyle Parker, president and CEO of ACHE, said Heiles was "the key hire" needed to ensure the best program for the proposed school. Parker referred to Heiles as "one of the most respected and influential deans at both the state and national levels."

"He will be instrumental in developing graduate medical education in and for both the state of Arkansas and the nation," Parker said in the news release.

Heiles, currently the American College of Osteopathic Physicians Chair of the Committee on Education and Evaluation, said he was excited to have the opportunity to shape the future of the proposed medical school.

"This will be a tremendous asset to western Arkansas and the entire state and make great strides in helping fill the need for medical professionals," he said in the release.

Cole Goodman, M.D., president of Mercy Clinic in Fort Smith, said Heiles' hiring will fast-track the process of setting up a curricula and hiring faculty while the construction of the college begins.

"Dr. Heiles as dean of the osteopathic college is a major step in making the proposed COM a reality," Goodman said in the release.

In February, the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority donated 200 acres to the project. The Fort Smith Regional Healthcare Foundation has also approved $58 million for the school, which is hoped to be opened in the fall of 2017.

"Our mission clearly states that we have a responsibility to fill gaps in health care and provide care for the medically underserved," Parker said in February. 

The project is supported by the Arkansas Osteopathic Medical Association.

Arkansas State University Osteopathic Medical School

Plans for another osteopathic school at the Jonesboro campus of Arkansas State University are also moving forward. The Arkansas State University System Board of Trustees approved a resolution in February that would allow it to partner with the New York Institute of Technology to develop the medical school.

An Arkansas State commissioned-study showed an osteopathic medical school in the region would help meet demand for primary-care physicians and inject $70 million into the area.

The study also found there is a shortage of physicians in northeast Arkansas and the Delta that will worsen within the next five years as more than a quarter of the state's physicians retire.

Arkansas currently ranks 48th among states in physicians per capita based on a 2010 study by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' Center for Rural Health. 

Despite the study, Dan Rahn, chancellor of the state's only medical school, told Arkansas Business in February the focus should be on adding residency slots instead of opening medical schools.

According to Rahn, there were 528 graduates nationwide in 2013 that did not find a residency program.

While admitting there is a shortage of physicians in the state, Rahn said if the residency issue is not dealt with Arkansas runs the risk of educating graduates that will not contribute to solving problems within the state.